Outagamie to state: Build the Highway 15 bypass
Area officials frustrated with state-level delays
By Scott Bellile
On some days, Hortonville Village Administrator David DeTroye has faith that state lawmakers will advance the proposed State Highway 15 bypass project.
On other days, he feels pessimistic.
“That changes daily,” DeTroye said at a news conference about State 15 he hosted at the Hortonville Municipal Building Monday, April 15. “I have good thoughts. I have bad thoughts. But I’m going to do everything in my power, and I hope the other people that are in support this would also [do their] due diligence as well because that’s what it’s going to take.”
He hears state legislators assign blame to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. DOT officials point fingers at the legislature. DeTroye personally believes lobbyists played a part, too.
Officials from Outagamie County and municipalities including Hortonville, Greenville, New London, Dale and Hortonia assembled at Monday’s news conference called “RU4 15?” to sign a proclamation urging their elected representatives, the DOT and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to keep the proposed bypass project in the proposed state budget and on schedule to begin construction in 2021.
Asked by a reporter why state-level decision-makers were absent from Monday’s news conference, DeTroye said they were not invited because the event was intended to be a positive announcement, not a debate.
“It is merely a proclamation that we are sending out and telling the powers that be that we’re in favor of this project, that this process has been put on the plate, it’s been kicked down the curb and it’s time that it comes to fruition,” DeTroye said.
Plus, DeTroye said, the collective of Outagamie County area officials in attendance Monday already met with state Rep. Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel, and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, last month to voice their concerns on State 15. Both lawmakers are “well aware” of where everyone stands on the status of State 15, DeTroye said.
“It’s been proposed, it’s been engineered, it’s been planned, it’s been argued, it’s been compromised, but what we need to continue to remember is that it continues to get delayed,” DeTroye said. “And every time we delay it … the price tag gets higher.”
Hortonville Public Works Director Carl McCrary said cost estimates for the proposed bypass have leaped from $89 million some years ago to $140 million today because the costs of material and labor are rising.
Municipalities continue to lose local property tax revenue because the DOT bought once-privately owned land to construct the bypass. Now that land is untaxed, DeTroye said.
Officials in attendance said the biggest cost is to public safety.
Fourteen people have died in 13 crashes on State 15 between Hortonia and Grand Chute since 2001, when the DOT completed a corridor plan for the proposed bypass, according to the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory. The latest occurred in October 2018 near Manley Road in the town of Greenville. A 33-year-old mother died.
Hortonville Police Chief Kristine Brownson said most fatalities on State 15 result from head-on crashes.
“I’ve lived in the village 25 years, and the amount of fatalities is just unbelievable,” Brownson said. “In one of the studies, they claimed that this Highway 15 is like within the top 10 of the most dangerous highways in the state of Wisconsin. That speaks high volume. This needs to be done.”
Deaths would decrease with the bypass because the roadway would be four lanes rather than two, she said.
Off the main stretch, towns like Hortonia, Dale and Ellington are experiencing increased traffic on back roads because some motorists avoid State 15.
“They’re going onto lower area roads, smaller roads, and those are becoming speed havens,” DeTroye said. “People are getting hurt. Accidents are increasing on these other roads because people are trying to find different thoroughfares of traffic to get off of Highway 15, especially at peak hours of travel.”
Those peak hours include before and after school. Brownson said vehicles become backed up in the school parking lots waiting to pass through the stoplights and onto the highway because drivers are competing with rush-hour traffic for the road.
Harry Steenbock, transportation director for the Hortonville Area School District, said the school buses hold up traffic on State 15 as children board or exit. He added 4-year-old kindergarten students cross the highway to get to their bus.
About every other week, bus drivers witness a crash caused by erratic drivers attempting to maneuver around HASD buses, Steenbeck said.
Over in New London, Mayor Gary Henke said he receives more citizen questions about when the bypass will be completed than when the city’s potholes will be repaired.
Henke said not only could the bypass get workers to and from the Fox Valley safely each day, but the convenience of it could make New London a more attractive place for businesses to locate.
Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson agreed, saying a bypass could “explode the economy” in the western part of the county, with positive effects felt into Waupaca County.
Funding for the bypass is already allocated in the governor’s proposed budget, Nelson said. The budget awaits approval by the Republican-controlled state legislature.
“As far as a message to elected officials, state officials here: We’re not really asking for anything,” Nelson said. “We’re just asking to just let [the bypass funding] be, OK? It’s there. It’s what we’ve been fighting for. We got it this far. Just keep it there. That’s it.”