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Public has concerns and questions about Business 51 plan

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Public hearing on Business 51/Division Street-Church Street reconstruction, held at Jefferson Elementary School in Stevens Point 1/22/13
Map of crash problem areas on Business 51/Division Street in Stevens Point
Public hearing on Business 51/Division Street-Church Street reconstruction, held at Jefferson Elementary School in Stevens Point 1/22/13
Mayor Andrew Halverson discu... (Download MP3)
Jean and Jolene Montgomery l... (Download MP3)

STEVENS POINT, WI (WSAU) -  About 100 people showed up for the presentation at Jefferson Elementary School, which had residents asking questions about property acquisition, why additional bike paths and sidewalk improvements are necessary, and what can be done to widen the railroad underpass.

Mayor Andrew Halverson says this is just the beginning of the planning stages, and they want to make sure residents are aware that much work needs to be done before any construction can start. “Even at the earliest, on the southern part of this corridor, we wouldn’t be in the ground on construction until 2016, so there will be an entire year or year-and-a-half at least as we evaluate the alternatives.”

He says the pavement is getting bad, lanes are narrow, the turning radius for large vehicles is substandard, and the crash statistics show something needs to be done.

Halverson says residents are concerned about losing their front yards or their houses, but it’s too soon to worry because it’s possible they won’t need any additional land. “Some of them (plans) may not need any right of way acquisition, and the last thing we want to do is to move forward and arbitrarily acquire property that isn’t necessary for an alternative that would fix the concerns that we have.”

Jean and Jolene Montgomery own a home that would be affected by widening Division Street. Jean says losing the front yard to a roadway would probably cause him to move. “If the project goes through as they seem to envision, it’s clearly going to destroy the suitability of my home as a residence, so I’m going to have to look at alternatives. Either replace it with something else, or turn it into college housing.” Montgomery is hoping the new improvements don’t encroach his home, saying, “It would be a terrible place to live in if I could reach out from my porch and shake hands with people driving by.”

Jolene is hoping Stevens Point doesn’t ruin the aesthetics of the neighborhood, and hopes they can follow some of Wausau’s downtown examples. “They have a beautiful 400 block, they’ve maintained their mall in the downtown area, and they’ve made it very aesthetically pleasing. I’m afraid if Stevens Point goes through with this project as anticipated, that’s going to be lost.”

One traffic bottleneck that exists may still be a problem after reconstruction, and that’s the Canadian National Railway underpass. Mayor Halverson says the railroad owns the underpass, and rebuilding it is not simple or cheap. “A lot of these citizens feel and believe that a full reconstruction of that underpass is going to be possible. Well first of all, that would be somewhere between 14 and 20 million dollars for the railroad to embark on that, arguably, they aren’t required to do.”

AECOM is the engineering firm that will design several options to rebuild the Business 51 corridor all the way from the Blue Top Restaurant to the I-39 interchange by Sentry World. Work will start at the south end and proceed to about Patch Street near the railroad tracks. Work north of that point will wait until the city has the funding to pay for it.

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