By Brandi Makuski
County officials agreed to postpone any decision on reducing the four-lane County Hwy. HH at the June 28 meeting of the Portage Co. Transportation Commission.
Officials from Portage Co., which owns the road, have for months been considering the idea of a “road diet” for a stretch of the roadway which travels east-west through the Village of Whiting. Currently a two-lane in each direction, village leaders say they oppose the idea of a lane reduction, as the corridor is heavily used by semi traffic and motorists — and is considered by many in the area to be an arterial road between Plover and Whiting.
The road diet would reduce driving surface to a single-lane in each direction with left-hand turn and bicycle lanes.
Highway Commissioner Nathan Check said crews are currently completing a resurfacing project of the road between Bus. 51 and Olympia Ave., with asphalt cover expected to be complete sometime next week.
Check said at the county’s meeting Tuesday morning, several residents from Whiting attended to speak in favor of the road diet.
But at Whiting’s meeting on Tuesday night, village leaders and residents again said they were not in favor of the plan.
“It’s still a conversational item, that’s for sure,” said Village Trustee Bill Taugner on Tuesday night. “[The commission] talked about doing a survey first; traffic on the road, crash history, that sort of thing, before they determine if there would be a need. There was no date set for doing that, and no decision as to whether they were going to do that, so right now everything is postponed. Right now, it’s going to be re-striped as a four-lane road.”
“It’s about time [the county] see what the village wanted,” said Whiting resident Diana Szymkowiak, who added she doesn’t believe residents from outside the area should have a voice on the matter. “Everybody from Stevens Point had their opinion, and I don’t think it’s right they should have a say.”
Potential changes to the roadway also bring into question how to address safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists at both the School St. intersection and the Green Circle Trail that travels across the highway. Taugner said one option includes working with the Green Circle Trail committee to somehow raise funds for a rapid flashing beacon or some other pedestrian crossing light.
Village Trustee Bill Horvath said he spent four days going door-to-door along Hwy. HH, talking with residents of the road to get their input on the potential changes.
Horvath, who lives on the road, said he sees heavy pedestrian and bicycle usage throughout the day and he supports the idea of expanding the village’s pedestrian pathway, but doesn’t want changes to the road — and neither do most of his constituents.
“There’s no question there’s a conflict on it, but about 75, 80 percent of everyone I found home after four days doesn’t want any changes to that road; and nobody said they want bicycles on the road, for safety reasons,” Horvath said.
Horvath added regardless of his personal opinion, he plans to speak for his constituents.
“One thing that people told me flat-out, quick, is they would never ride a bicycle on HH, or allow their kids to ride on HH because it’s too dangerous, too narrow,” Horvath said. “One thing I’ve learned in the last 20 years is you’ve got to represent your contingency; if the people on HH said, ‘Let’s do a two-lane’, I’d have supported them. But it was just the opposite.”
Trustee Kevin Lutz had a similar sentiment.
“I was elected to represent the people, so as an elected village trustee, I will represent the people who elected me,” he said.
But some in the village say they are in favor of the road diet. Whiting resident Susan Lasecki has spearheaded an online petition arguing for the lane reduction, saying the design change would improve safety on the road and would actually discourage the ongoing problem of motorists speeding in the area. The online petition has garnered 84 supporters, though Lasecki contends there are over 120 signatures, saying not all signatures were collected electronically.
When asked how much weight he lends to the petition, Lutz said, “I see people [on the petition] from Sheboygan, Ohio…once again, I’m here to represent the people of Whiting.”