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Column: Vehicles drive several new city projects

2:28 PM, May 15, 2013  |  Comments
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Accommodating vehicles is the business of three new projects in Stevens Point: the Business 51 redesign, a parking lot where the downtown mall stood and a parking ramp at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

? The designers of Business 51 through Stevens Point presented four preliminary designs to the Board of Public Works this week. A public open house on the designs will be held tonight.

Two alternatives for a two-lane street and two alternatives for a four-lane street were offered. Traffic engineer Jeff Sandberg from AECOM discussed the merits of each design with emphasis on safety, travel times and aesthetics; accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians; and the impacts to private properties and historical neighborhoods.

Sandberg said the safety analysis predicts that all four designs would reduce crashes; the biggest reduction would come with the raised median options. Travel times were not much different when comparing the two-lane and four-lane roads. Adding green medians and green terraces/boulevards, or the area between curb and sidewalk, would improve aesthetics and offer more protection for walkers and cyclists.

The effects on residential properties and historical neighborhoods, however, could be severe. As many as 49 homes and 13 businesses could be lost with a four-lane design. A two-lane road could take 15 houses and six businesses. The considerable cost of "relocating" people and businesses or using eminent domain would be the city's responsibility alone, according to Mayor Andrew Halverson.

Naturally, relocation and construction costs would be lower with a two-lane road.

Project leader Bruce Gerland emphasized that these four options for a reconstructed Business 51 are truly preliminary. After gathering comments from the public and property owners, as well as from the State Historical Society and the Department of Natural Resources, the designers will go back to the drawing board to create more detailed alternative designs.

Slides of the presentation are available at www.stevenspoint.com on the public works page. Gerland and Scott Schatschneider, director of Public Works, are accepting comments for the next three weeks.

? In the gaping space where the east section of the mall was torn down, we will get yet another expanse of concrete and asphalt.

The public had wanted to keep that part of the mall, but those wishes were ignored. Then, we were told that the space would be planted in grass (until developers came along), but that idea was abandoned for a big parking lot. Now, the original plan for the lot with ample green space has been jettisoned.

The plan had included a 30-foot wide stretch of green to the south of the lot and behind the buildings on Main Street from Shopko down to the new Third Street. Some service parking was included, but apparently it wasn't enough for at least one business owner. The Community Development Department drew up a new plan, and the result is more parking spaces and only a small patch of green near the Shopko parking lot.

When the new plan came before the Plan and Historic Design Review commissions, I heard arguments against urban green space that I haven't heard in years: It's hard to maintain, it's expensive to maintain, salt from the parking lot/street will kill the grass, 30 feet is too narrow to be "functional."

Green space in the city can help cool a baking asphalt/concrete/brick environment, absorb storm water runoff and provide people with a soothing, pretty place to rest.

The only support for retaining the green swath came from stakeholders at the Fox Theatre and the Central Wisconsin Children's Museum.

? The university's director of facility planning, Carl Rasmussen, presented to the city a concept for a parking structure on existing Lot T. It would replace parking spaces lost when the university builds a new science building on commuter Lot X. The ramp would be four levels high and abut the backyards of single family homes on Illinois and Fourth Avenues.

Neighbors' chief concerns are the massiveness of a four-story brick structure literally in their backyards and the traffic a 600-vehicle structure would bring to an already congested area. The ramp would add traffic on Stanley Street near the hospital and on Fourth Avenue by Quandt Gymnasium.

Rasmussen said other parking lots were considered for the parking structure, but Lot T was the best because of its size and proximity to the "academic core." A Plan B would have to include one of those less satisfactory options, he said.

It's not too late to offer an opinion on any of these traffic-related projects. Contact your city council member or Mayor Halverson.

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