/ Articles / ‘They think it’s in fine shape’

‘They think it’s in fine shape’

August 13, 2019 by Brian Jopek

The stretch of U.S. Highway 51 south of the Lake Minocqua bridge to Northern Road is something the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would like to improve. 

The time frame for that improvement, according Minocqua public works director Mark Pertile, is “four to five years out.”

“I’d like for it to be sooner,” he told The Lakeland Times Aug. 6 after a town board meeting the night before. 

The big kicker

There wasn’t a decision made at the meeting — town chairman Mark Hartzheim said he wanted to make others on the town board aware he and Pertile have been talking on a preliminary basis to DOT officials about cost sharing to get the work done “in the next several years and work we hope they will include in that.”

“Some of that work will probably require town cost share if we want it incorporated into the work,” he said. 

Pertile said in addition to the pavement being in poor shape, curb, gutter and sidewalks are as well. 

He said the discussions with DOT officials so far have led to costs associated with sidewalk to the bridge on the east side of Hwy. 51. 

“Most likely, those ... may not be a cost share,” Pertile said. “We’re looking at sidewalk from the bridge on the west of (Hwy.) 51 all the way to Manitou Park.”

Included in that section, he said, is a retaining wall next to The Pointe Hotel & Suites.

“That’s the big kicker,” Pertile said. “That one there ... we’ve been going back and forth with the state for quite awhile,” he said. 

Essentially, he said, the town has asked the wall be moved back and primarily for safety. 

At the wall’s most southern point, the sidewalk is barely six inches wide. 

“People are walking along there and then they’re walking into traffic and then back up on the bank,” Pertile said, indicating he was surprised there hadn’t been more incidents at that location. 

In October, 2017, he sent an email to Nicholas Vos with the DOT and attached a copy of a Minocqua police report regarding an accident there which resulted in injuries to a bicyclist. 

“We have requested in the past that the State evaluate this safety hazard,” Pertile said in his email to Vos. “It is once again requested the State evaluate this safety hazard for both pedestrians using this ‘undesignated’ path and the vehicular traffic that have to potentially avoid bike/peds unintentionally entering into a traveled way without any advance warning.”

Chunk of change

Pertile told the town board at last week’s meeting it was thought the retaining wall was “the 100% responsibility” of the DOT.

Apparently, the DOT doesn’t feel the same way.

“They’re really digging their heels in on this one,” Pertile told the town board. “They’re saying, ‘Well, we’ll consider moving it but ... we want the town to pay 80% of the cost to move that wall back.’” 

“Because they think it’s in fine shape,” Hartzheim chimed in. 

Town supervisor Sue Heil asked if the wall was on The Pointe’s property.

“No, it’s all right of way,” Pertile said.

“And there’s room in the right of way to move it back,” Hartzheim said.

Pertile said the discussion has gone back and forth, the town’s standpoint being the wall is the DOT’s responsibility. 

As for the wall’s condition, which Hartzheim alluded to earlier, Pertile said the DOT maintains it’s in good condition, an opinion he obviously doesn’t agree with. 

“When you walk by it ... it’s getting to be in poor condition,” he said. 

“You can see rebar in about four or five different places on it,” Hartzheim said. “(If) we own the wall, they tell us to replace it.”

He said if the DOT owns the wall, though, it’s essentially OK. 

Pertile said DOT officials have claimed that section of sidewalk where the wall is within its “safety clear zones” for Hwy. 51. 

“With that said, they said they would consider cost sharing on that wall,” he said, adding a sidewalk would go all the way through to Manitou Park.

As far as a cost to replace the wall, Pertile said the DOT estimated $500,000.

That number drew an instantaneous response from town supervisor John Thompson, in the construction business.

“What?” he exclaimed.

“It was $400 and something,” Pertile said. 

“Oh my God,” Thompson said.  

“It’s a chunk of change,” Pertile said. “That was for the whole wall. They wanted to replace the whole wall. Well, in our opinion ... only a portion of it would need to be replaced, where it starts getting narrow. The rest of it, most likely, could remain. We feel they could do some engineering to make that happen.”

He said he believed DOT staff was going to evaluate that, but wanted to know if the town board was interested in a cost share in order to keep the project’s development moving forward. 

What it came down to, Pertile said, was what percentage the town was willing to pay for safety. 

Hartzheim said he believes it’s one of the items which needs the town board’s attention as far as “trouble areas and problem areas.”

“It’s clearly a sidewalk from the south end of the bridge,” he said. “It’s intuitive for people to follow that, especially if they’re going to The Pointe or the ballpark and it literally tapers down to about six inches wide. You have to walk in the roadway to get around that end of the wall.”

Hartzheim said “it’s insane to funnel people” who are walking through there or even worse, on bicycles. 

“Or strollers, probably the worst case, to have to go into the roadway to get around the end of the retaining wall,” he said. “It’s just ... been there and we have to address that. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than just looking the other way at that thing. That shouldn’t be that way.”

“That’s been that way since I was a kid,” town supervisor Bill Stengl said. 

“It has,” Hartzheim agreed. 

Pertile said the DOT wants to add more crosswalks in that area. 

“To get people to cross U.S. Highway 51,” Stengl said. 

“How about another HAWK system?” Thompson asked jokingly, a reference to the pedestrian stop light system near Save More installed in 2013 during the Hwy. 51 reconstruction through a portion of Minocqua.

Pertile said while the HAWK system isn’t something the DOT had mentioned, there have been other suggestions, such as flashing lights at crosswalks in places.

“In our opinion, that’s not going to solve the issue,” he said. “We just want anybody, basically, that’s on the east side of the highway to be able to access downtown and there would be access on the west side.”

Pertile said that’s where things were before the cost share subject came up. 

Thompson, after getting clarification the wall is indeed the DOT’s, pointed out the town, according to its maintenance agreement with the DOT, takes care of sidewalks all the way to the County Road J and Hwy. 51 intersection. 

“Now, all of a sudden, the rules have changed?” he asked. “I can see doing 20%, but ... and then half a million dollars for that? Are you kidding me?”

“You could build a nice house for that kind of money,” Stengl said. 

“I think they put a high number on it,” Pertile said. 

“Just to get rid of you guys,” Thompson said. 

Pertile said as time has gone on, that figure has come down a little, but there was still no actual cost estimate. 

“The problem is we agree to a cost share, they control the cost,” Stengl said. “They pick the contractor, they engineer it ... they tell what the price tag is. We just sign up for whatever.”

Hartzheim said whatever is done there, it was going to be expensive.

Stengl agreed it would be if the state was involved.

“They’re gonna make it expensive,” Thompson said. 

“It’s gonna be six figures, no matter how you do it,” Hartzheim said. “Even if you just addressed the south third of it.”

DOT response

The Lakeland Times reached out Friday to the DOT’s Shannon Riley as well as Vos and received an email response from Tegan Griffith, the DOT’s regional communication manager for its north central region and based in Rhinelander. 

“The wall is in good condition,” Griffith  wrote. “With minimal surface patching, it will last several more years.”

As for the sidewalks she said the sidewalk along the east side of Hwy. 51 south of the bridge meets existing sidewalk requirements for pedestrians. 

“The addition of sidewalk on the west side in this area would require participation from the community,” Griffith wrote.

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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