By Rich Palzewic
ALLOUEZ – At its Feb. 2 board meeting, the Allouez village board discussed the Webster Avenue corridor study with hopes of improving the area for residents and developments.
Sean Gehin, public works director, presented the study which looks at Webster from Allouez Avenue north to the village limits.
The village contracted raSmith to complete the study.
“To complement planned and future developments along Webster Avenue, the village is interested in improving the functionality of the roadway,” Gehin said. “We want to make it more inviting to pedestrians and businesses.”
Gehin said desired improvements could potentially include bike lanes, a terrace of adequate width for snow storage, planters, benches, ornamental trees and a 5-foot sidewalk, all of which could cost up to $2 million.
“We took the suggestions from raSmith and then went to the county,” said Gehin. “We didn’t want to start work with engineering costs without doing so.”
Gehin said Brown County Public Works director Paul Fontecchio gave his feedback on the project.
“Paul told us what he would allow and be in favor of on that roadway,” Gehin said. “He’s not open to any type of lane reduction. Currently, there are five lanes. He’s also not in favor of any lane-width reductions.”
Currently, the lanes are 12-feet wide.
Gehin said with the traffic component of the study, he was hoping 12-foot lanes might not be needed, and the village could get away with something narrower.
“We have to keep an open mind to things,” he said. “We were hoping for a bit more flexibility so we could work within the existing roadway footprint to create space on the outside and minimize the impact. Paul didn’t beat around the bush, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of flexibility. It pretty much scrapped the proposal we had from raSmith.”
Gehin said if the county doesn’t budge, the village might have to look at different options.
“How does the village add sidewalk and not impact what currently exists for lane width?” he asked. “We’d have to acquire right-of-way access, but that would come with a hefty cost. Ultimately, we want to make the environment along Webster Avenue more inviting.”
Gehin said the county is not against pedestrian improvements on Webster.
“The county simply has questions on how we go about making those improvements,” he said. “They’d like to see us get right-of-way access on the outside of the road to gain the space.”
Village President Jim Rafter and several trustees then weighed in.
“I respect the county’s thoughts, but it sounds like the decision has to be made at a higher level,” Rafter said. “We need to take our discussion to a higher level, too. This isn’t an option for us. This is an important topic on the minds of Allouez residents, and it was in our plan. People need safe places to walk. I’m not suggesting we go in with a fight, I simply want more discussion.”
Trustee Jim Genrich said the county and village simply have different thoughts when it comes to the roadway.
“The county’s position is to move traffic as quickly and safely as possible, while the village wants Webster to be more livable and pedestrian- and bike-friendly,” he said. “I think there should be a way to see if we can work it out instead of being told, ‘No, you can’t do that.’”
Trustee Lynn Green said she walks along Webster, and the current situation isn’t ideal, especially in the winter.
“I’d invite anyone to come walk with me after a snowstorm and try to negotiate those sidewalks 24 to 72 hours after,” she said. “There’s little space to move the snow.”