There is an old saying that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Well when that straight line has been taken away, as in the case of STH 81 between Lancaster and Platteville, the town of Ellenboro has become the straight line for many drivers, which has left town roads heavily battered and the community looking at bills to repair the roads degrading under the weight of traffic.
“It’s worse than I thought it would be,” said Kathy Hottenstein, Ellenboro Town Chairman about how much abuse the roads leading into the community from the traffic. “I didn’t expect the amount of traffic on the roads to be this high.”
Hottenstein, a retired officer from the Platteville Police Department, has been on duty along the entryways of Ellenboro, monitoring traffic throughout the informal detour began. She noted that traffic has been very high in the morning - from 6:45 to 8 a.m. on one day, 173 vehicles passed through. Two days later, she counted 131 during the same timeframe.
Ellenboro is likely left high and dry when it comes to the repairs for the roads. The state does not designate township roads for detours, and tries to avoid using county roads, if possible, as it reimburses that usage. The state chose as the official detour STH 61 and USH 151, taking drivers through Dickeyville, making the total detour twice as long as it would have taken.
Construction played a significant role in pushing drivers onto Ellenboro’s roads as well. State 61 has its own reconstruction project going on, and while the road has remained open, it is now one lane for stretches as part of the repaving project.
In addition to STH 61, County Trunks A and B have also been limited to traffic. CTH A was under reconstruction, a project that will soon be coming to an end, although is not officially open until it is striped and finished. CTH B was closed within the City of Platteville as the city handled street work.
This pushed traffic onto Ellenboro.
Hottenstein said the town board had a discussion whether or not to close Hollenberger and Ellenboro roads to prevent the wear and tear, but with the Ellenboro Saloon, a popular destination in the community, it would have made it difficult to allow patrons for that business, but stop those from driving through. “We wanted to be user friendly,” Hottenstein said of the board’s decision to keep the roads open. “We knew the burden. We also did not want to impact the traffic to the very popular business.”
The town has been documenting the deterioration of the road due to the increased traffic, and will contact the Department of Transportation, as well as elected legislators to see about getting compensated for the damage, but Hottenstein does not see it going very far. “Its highly unlikely we will get any assistance.”
So instead, the town decided to create a permit for those large trucks that exceed weight limits. Posted to the signs leading into Ellenboro are postings made by Hottenstein alerting drivers to call 345-2254 to get a $50 permit. That permit is good for one vehicle to pass through for the duration of the construction project.
For those who haven’t gotten a permit, Hottenstein makes sure to track them down to let them know about the conditions. She said most of the time, she will jot down a license plate number or markings on the side of a truck, and give that business a quick call, and they will pay for a permit. She noted that for one dairy that felt they were exempt, the Wisconsin State Patrol stepped in to explain the rules of bringing an oversized load onto a town road without a permit.
“We have tried to be reasonable,” Hottenstein said, noting that the $50 permit is much cheaper than the fines that law enforcement give out for oversized loads, which start at $200 and are based on how many pounds a load is over. She also said that they realize that for a number of drivers, who are utilizing GPS, their maps are not showing the bridge project. SHe added that she was told by at least one truck driver that with the signage warning about the permit that training has told them not to venture that way, GPS or not.
The town has collected $1,000 thus far on permits.
Hottenstein noted that the State Patrol has been helpful with the issue, and will have a portable scale onhand throughout the rest of the summer. Because of the narrowness of the road, they have also posted no parking along the southern side of the roadway near the Ellenboro Saloon.
The town has looked at its options for repairs. Currently the town has been applying gravel in places on the road, especially on the edges that have been breaking away, but according to Hottenstein “the gravel doesn’t stay.” Likely the town will get two-to-three loads of cold patch to make temporary repairs to the road, which will cost $1,600 a load. Then, next summer, the road will be sealcoated, estimated to cost $7,000.
“We’re on a shoestring budget,” Hottenstein noted about Ellenboro’s finances, adding that this year’s budget has been hit recently by equipment repairs. Since with the low population the tax base is very low, but they will have to look at taxes to help cover the repairs.
Hottenstein noted that the residents of Ellenboro have filed few formal complaints about the traffic, just trying to deal with the problem. One family was concerned about dump trucks moving through, while many others are concerned about drivers going faster than the 25 mph posted speed limit.
“People have been pretty diligent watching out,” Hottenstein said.
Hottenstein said that one thing residents wished they had seen was the bridge construction project extending towards Platteville, repairing deficiencies that have shown up since the reconstruction project. “There is a lot of frustrated people who wished they repaired it,” Hottenstein said. “Loads have shifted (on trucks) because of the bad condition of the road.”
The town chairman noted that people that can take alternate routes if possible would help reduce the damage.