A certain amount of inconvenience is guaranteed during a road construction project.
For businesses whose access for their customers is severely curtailed during road work past their front doors, the word “inconvenience” is an understatement.
Wisconsin 80 is closed from the Water Street–Pine Street intersection in Platteville north to the Livingston south village limits until November. The project is technically two projects, the first from Wisconsin 81 (Pine Street) to Malone Drive in Platteville, the other from Malone Drive to East Tama Drive in Livingston.
The project involves reconstruction of Water Street from Pine Street to Walnut Dell Road, and resurfacing from Walnut Dell Road north to Livingston.
The official detour is Wisconsin 81 from Platteville to Lancaster, U.S. 61 from Lancaster to Fennimore, and U.S. 18 from Fennimore to Montfort.
“I am stuck in the middle of this whole project,” said Bill Hughes, who owns the Arthur House in Arthur. “To not have access to the north or the south during this whole project just seems like an oversight on the part of officials.”
The ramifications of having access to his restaurant closed from north or south became apparent shortly after the barricades went up May 7.
“I had a table of guests trying to get here; they were from Dubuque,” said Hughes. “They said they took two hours to get here.
“Our Mother’s Day was decent, although it was down compared to the past. Last night [May 17], I only had my diehard regulars. It’s been a percentage drop, and it’s going to have a cumulative effect.”
The Arthur House has 14 employees, and “some of them, I am their only source of income,” said Hughes. “I’m thinking about closing for the summer. I don’t want to do that, because it’ll have ramifications down the line.
“I need cash flow through here in order to pay for the air conditioning. My refrigeration bills are big. I’ve had rumors to deal with. I will do my best to stay active and keep going, but I need to stay open, and the state hasn’t helped.”
“What Bill is upset with — and I can see his point — the contractor chose to start by Golf View Drive and go north,” said Ralph Liegel of Jewell Associates Engineers, Inc., of Spring Green, which is managing the project for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. “It has to do with bridge work, and I can’t dictate how they do their project.
“Bill is upset that traffic can’t get to the Arthur House, and there’s no work on that end. There’s going to be periods of time when the road is closed and traffic’s going to have to find other ways to get to places.”
“We don’t dictate to the contractor where they start,” said WisDOT project manager Tim Maedke. “The contractor determines the schedule. It’s the way their schedule works. We would have those discussions with the contractor. But there are liability issues. If a contractor took down some signs, or left some items on the shoulder, that’s their liability.”
"That's the way the project was bid — in order for taxpayers, you, me and everyone else to save money, most of the time we deal with private contractors, that's their road at that point," said Grant County Highway Commissioner Dave Lambert. "In any construction job, there's always a few people who are going to be inconvenienced more than others for the good of all of us. Unfortunately Bill is one of those people. It's not a good position to be in."
Arthur is still accessible from west or east via County A, but drivers have to get to County A first.
“They could easily keep this northern stretch open for me” given that work on the northern end isn’t scheduled to start until after Independence Day, said Hughes. “I do not feel enough effort has gone into the planning phase of this process.”
“The state is looking into that a little bit about allowing traffic there,” said Liegel. “The problem is the detour — we can’t detour traffic around on [County] A.”
WisDOT policy normally requires that detours for road construction are routed on roads of similar capacity to the road being repaired. During the Wisconsin 81 project in Platteville in 2006 and during the Ellenboro bridge project in 2011, traffic on 81 was detoured onto U.S. 151 to Dickeyville and U.S. 61 to Lancaster.
Maedke said a detour route “has to be able to handle the truck traffic that it’s going to get. There are times that we use county roads, but they have to be able to handle truck traffic.”
Maedke said neither County D nor County A meet WisDOT standards for state-highway detour routes.
The work past the restaurant’s front door made Hughes decide to not book comedy acts this summer.
“I depend on my regulars from the area,” he said. “When I’m running comedy shows, I get people from a 90-mile radius of the area.”
The fact the barricades close 80 south of Livingston, and not throughout Livingston, is only because of the initiative of the Livingston Community Improvement Corp.
Sheila Ruchti, vice president of Livingston State Bank, said barricades were first put up on County Line Road at the north village limits.
“Vehicles have to weave through, and we have farm vehicles here,” said Ruchti. “So many of us from the community made phone calls to the people we were given from those in charge of the project to get something done.”
The barriers were moved to the south village limits. After that, volunteers made signs pointing to Livingston from Wisconsin 81 at Grant County D, Wisconsin 129 at Grant County A, Grant County E, Grant County G and other locations. Volunteers also made “Road Open to Livingston” signs for 80 in Montfort.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep traffic moving,” said Ruchti.
The barricades moved north to County E (Highway Street) on Monday, Liegel said, because tractor–trailers were encountering the closed road and then driving on side streets to turn around.
One Platteville business won’t be around to enjoy the Water Street improvements. Dennis and Mary Foley, owners of Now & Then Antiques, 50 N. Water St., will be moving their store at the end of May to Monroe.
“I’m not putting up with that anymore,” said Dennis Foley. “They said I was supposed to have access to my business at all times. Where — in the alleyway? I haven’t had water in the last three days. I’m not happy with Platteville at all.”
During the early days of the Water Street project, the only access to Now & Then by vehicle appears to be the driveway to the garages at Hearthside Apartments, 155 E. Main St. That driveway is marked with a sign, “Private Drive, No Thru Traffic.”
“We were told they’d be doing just one side of the street at a time,” said Mary Foley.
The Foleys, who live in Apple River, Ill., opened their store Feb. 13.
“I just can’t sit here for six months and hope I can make rent,” said Dennis Foley, who claims he was told his store would be cut off from street access for four to six weeks, not six months.
“Road work is very frustrating and very difficult on everybody, residents and businesses alike,” said Howard Crofoot, the city’s director of public works. “We do as much as we can to make sure they have access to businesses as much as possible. We talk to them about doing additional advertising and other means to get the word out there.”
The Foleys’ particular challenge is they need a building with large enough doors to move antiques and used furniture in and out, with affordable rent.
“We actually liked it in town,” said Mary Foley. “There were nice places, but the rent is too much for a mom-and-pop business. If we’d had the business established a while and had our expenses covered, we could have maybe made this work. But we’d been around six months.”
“It seems that their business model is a lot of drive-by and walk-by traffic, and now you can’t drive by,” said Crofoot, who added that Main Street is now open east and west through the Water Street intersection. “There are things that maybe could have been done to help them a little more, but probably not for the first few days” of the project.
The Main–Water intersection underground work took one extra day than scheduled to complete.
“The contractor has assured me that whatever work they need to do in that intersection, they’re going to do it basically in parts so they can maintain traffic in the intersection,” said Crofoot.
The impression one gets from talking to a few people is that the extent of inaccessibility during the project either wasn’t made clear or wasn’t understood.
“I understand the construction process clearly,” said Ruchti. “I attended the meetings in Platteville. What I didn’t realize is they would have a need for barriers on each and every side street that turns onto 80. It seemed like they over-barriered us; it was overkill.”
“I put 16 years into this, and to see it thwarted by things beyond my control … it’s just nobody sticking their neck out and going the extra mile for me,” said Hughes.
“We’re willing to work with him on directional signing on some of the side roads,” said Maedke. “But it’s not realistic to alter the detour throughout the life of the project, unless it’s originally staged that way.”