After months of planning, Eau Claire’s biggest road project of this year will be up for a final public hearing this week before the City Council is scheduled to vote on it.
Designs for reconstructing nearly a mile of State Street, stretching from the UW-Eau Claire campus to city limits, are seeking the council’s approval Tuesday, including the addition of three roundabouts and numerous safety upgrades to the busy road.
“This is a big project,” city engineer David Solberg said, adding that it’s been the most complex road work he’s seen in Eau Claire in at least five years.
City staff began researching the project last summer and have held numerous public meetings through fall and winter to seek input on designs. During Monday night’s meeting, Solberg will present the recommended designs, which will then be discussed during a public hearing.
As planned, three roundabouts would replace existing stop-sign controlled intersections at Hamilton Avenue, MacArthur Avenue and Lexington Boulevard.
Engineers had considered another roundabout for a crash-prone intersection near the UW-Eau Claire campus, but opted to recommend a different option.
To improve pedestrian safety at the Roosevelt Avenue intersection, which is close to the UW-Eau Claire campus, Solberg is recommending that a concrete island be built between traffic lanes on the intersection’s north side. This would allow pedestrians to cross one lane of the busy road and stop in the middle to safely wait before the other traffic lane.
In addition to the refuge island, pedestrian crossing signs and signs with speedometers showing drivers how fast they’re going are also included in the design.
Improving safety at the Roosevelt Avenue intersection was necessary because of the history of vehicle crashes there.
There were 27 crashes at the intersection between 2013 and 2017 — including three involving pedestrians and two with bicyclists. The next most crash-prone intersection on the route was Lexington Boulevard with 21 crashes in those four years, but none involving walkers or bicyclists.
A roundabout was considered for the Roosevelt Avenue intersection, but found to be problematic as engineers studied it in detail.
A small roundabout would fit within the current intersection, but would create traffic jams about 500 feet long, backing up through the Garfield Avenue traffic lights during evening rush hours, according to the city engineer’s memo.
“People didn’t want State Street to be a bottleneck,” Solberg said, citing feedback from community meetings.
Creating a roundabout large enough to handle the traffic flow at Roosevelt Avenue would require buying up neighboring private property, which the engineer did not recommend.
Solberg said the city doesn’t acquire private property for road projects, unless absolutely necessary and at the direction of the City Council. Should the council decide to go the route of making a large roundabout at Roosevelt Avenue, Solberg’s memo said part of the roadwork would have to wait until 2020.
Pedestrian and bicycling groups told the city that they’d prefer a roundabout be installed there for improved safety.
“The Committee feels that the reconstruction without a roundabout would not address pedestrian and bicyclist safety at this location or the Complete Streets goal of this project,” Aaron Salmon, chairman of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, wrote in a letter.
A similar committee at UW-Eau Claire wrote in support of Solberg’s recommendations, but also said it would like a full-size roundabout at Roosevelt Avenue, if feasible.
Planned changes to State Street include the addition of bike lanes along part of the route, including the hill. To accomplish that, the three traffic lanes on the hill will be reduced to two.
“Staff proposes converting the third lane, which is not necessary for vehicles, into on-street bicycle lanes,” the engineer’s memo stated.
Engineers calculate that one traffic lane on hill can safely handle 1,733 vehicles per hour. Actual traffic counts taken by the city show peak traffic is about 1,000 vehicles per hour during afternoon rush hour there.
Rebuilding the roadway, replacing buried utility lines that are a century old in places and additional costs for engineering and contingencies give the project an estimated total price tag of about $2.57 million. The state Department of Transportation is chipping in about $170,600.
Construction is slated to start in June and wrap up as late as early December.
While State Street is closed, motorists will be directed to a detour that uses the Harding Avenue hill to get between the south side and the UW-Eau Claire and downtown areas.
Also during this week’s meetings:
• The council will vote on awarding a contract of up to $1.56 million to Miron Construction of Neenah to make upgrades to the Akervik Rink in Hobbs Ice Center. Work includes replacing the ice rink’s floor and remodeling locker rooms. The project’s cost may go down, depending on how much frost needs to be removed under the current rink.
• The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has agreed to provide the city with a $45,185 to help pay for equipment intended to prevent flooding in low-lying neighborhoods near the Chippewa River. The council will vote Tuesday on accepting the DNR grant.