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The Highway 33 nightmare PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 18:23

The DOT predicted the Port-Saukville road project would be a nightmare; it wasn’t—until work stopped and drivers were left with a confusing, cobbled together, dangerous road

Before the rebuilding of Highway 33 between Port Washington and Saukville began, a state Department of Transportation spokesman, in a moment of astonishing candidness, told people assembled at an informational meeting that the project would be a year-long “nightmare” for drivers.

The assumption was that the nightmare would be the difficulty of using the heavily traveled link between the communities during the construction process, starting and stopping as dump trucks, bulldozers, backhoes and other road-building equipment weaved through temporary driving lanes, having to move at a crawling pace, enduring tedious detours, that sort of thing.

All of that turned out to be nothing more than the stuff of a modestly unpleasant dream, far short of nightmare status. Construction contractors worked with an alacrity unusual in a state highway project. Compared to, say, the putzing pace of the never-ending tweaking of overpasses that has made ranks of blaze orange construction barrels a semi-permanent feature of I-43 north of Port Washington, the Highway 33 project proceeded at a fast clip and with surprisingly little inconvenience for drivers.

But now we get it—the nightmare is the aftermath, the Frankenstein version of Highway 33 left for drivers to use after construction crews suspended their work for the winter.


The highway is patently unsafe. Driving lanes jump from one side of the partially completed roadway to the other in confusing, counter-intuitive ways. A galaxy of reflective barricades distracts drivers who need all the concentration they can muster to safely navigate the road’s odd twists and turns. Crossings are so oddly configured and marked as to be invitations for drivers to turn into oncoming traffic lanes.

Worst of all, the project made a formerly safe crossing—where Highway LL passed above Highway 33 on an overpass—into a classic, treacherous T-bone intersection. Traffic on 33 doesn’t stop. Temporary stop signs tell drivers on LL to stop; if they don’t get the message, the consequences could be dire.

It is because intersections like this are so dangerous that the finished Port-Saukville stretch of Highway 33 will have roundabouts at three crossings.

City of Port Washington officials have urged the DOT to make improvements, including adding some street lighting.

A DOT spokesman said the agency is thinking about it and in the meantime everyone should drive slowly. Drivers surely appreciate the advice, but this is not an acceptable response.

The current situation might be tolerable if it were a short-term expedient. But this is for the duration of winter and then some. Before construction resumes, drivers may have had to deal with it for six months.

That is not acceptable for a road that is so heavily traveled the DOT says it has to be made into a four-lane highway, which is what the project is all about.

The DOT predicted a nightmare and managed for months to avoid it. Now that it’s finally here, it should act quickly to make it a short one.

 
Lake Park tower needs further review PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 December 2011 17:56

With its swift approval of the 80-foot structure, the Plan Commission ignored aesthetic drawbacks; an alternative site should be considered

It didn’t take members of the Port Washington Plan Commission long to fall in love with the idea of an 80-foot tower in Upper Lake Park.

The tower proposal was presented to the commission Dec. 15 and after a scant 15 minutes of discussion garnered an enthusiastic endorsement. Five members praised the tower effusively and voted to approve it. Only Mayor Scott Huebner declined to get on the bandwagon and voted against it.

The tower would be a gift from a group of Port Washington residents who have adopted the name Friends of the Tower. Perhaps it was appreciation for this generosity that accounted for the commission’s uncharacteristically speedy approval, but good intentions do not change the fact that placing a structure of this size on prominent public land warrants more thorough consideration.

The possibility of costs to taxpayers involving maintenance or liability was mentioned but hardly explored.

The most significant ramification of the tower—its aesthetic impact—might not have come up at all were not for Huebner, who based his vote against it on his belief that the tower would be too high for its location.

The tower, a blocky, utilitarian structure by nature, would be a protuberant addition to the city skyline.

Huebner noted that the eight-story condominium building on Lake Street is a lingering source of regret in some quarters because of its dominating height in a lakefront setting. The tower would be roughly the same height, mounted on one of the city’s highest points.

Plan commissioners were excited about the tower’s potential as a tourist attraction, which is understandable because similar towers are quite popular elsewhere in Wisconsin. However, the purpose of those towers, which are mostly in state parks, is to offer vantage points for clear views above the surrounding trees.


Without the need for man-made assists, Upper Lake Park already offers such vistas, including, from its southeast promontory, one that could well be the most dramatic lake view from public land on the west shore of Lake Michigan.

The view of the lake from 80 feet higher would not be much the different, just a bit farther beyond the curvature of the earth.

It is now up to the Common Council to apply the due diligence the tower proposal requires. This should include addressing the foregoing concerns and exploring the possibility that there is a better place for the tower. Such a place could be the city’s newly acquired park land on the former Wisconsin Electric coal dock property at the harbor.

There the tower would be an asset unencumbered by negative side effects. The site is at lake level; the tower would add expansive views at about the same height as the Upper Lake Park bluff.

Moreover, because the coal dock property is in the process of being developed by the city for recreation, the tower could be incorporated into its design.

The aesthetic concerns attached to a very tall structure would not be issues on the coal dock site, which is bordered by the city’s largest building, the We Energies power plant.   

On this site, the tower could reach its full potential as a visitor attraction and another way for residents to take in the magnificence of Lake Michigan.

The tower’s donors, who to their credit want to do something quite special for Port Washington, would have the satisfaction of knowing they accomplished that by providing a key feature of an important new lakeshore recreation area.

Assuming it is not also smitten by love at first sight, the Common Council should take a clear-eyed look at the negative aspects of a tower on the heights of Upper Lake Park and consider the feasibility of an alternative site on the coal dock land.

 
The fall and rise of hometown shopping PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 21 December 2011 18:58

Port Washington’s tireless efforts to revive local retail business is being boosted by a new appreciation of life in small, self-sustaining communities

Talk to folks of a certain age about life in the second half of the 20th century in Port Washington and you’ll likely hear stories of Friday nights downtown when all of the dozens of stores there were open until 9 p.m. and the shopping crowds were so big a police officer had to direct traffic at the intersection of Franklin and Main.

Younger residents are more familiar with stories of vacant storefronts and nearly empty streets.

Both memories are history now as Port Washington reclaims the vitality of its downtown. Not yet a renaissance, it is a revival in progress, accomplished increment by increment, store by store. There have been gains and losses, but the gains are winning, evidenced this Christmas season by busy stores, filled parking spaces on Franklin Street and lots of people out and about on downtown sidewalks.

Don’t thank Santa Claus for this; it’s not a gift. A coalition of organizations, volunteers and brave, creative business owners are making it happen.

The Port Main Street program, which works with building owners and merchants in its business recruitment efforts and organizes scores of volunteers to stage events to bring people downtown, reports a net gain of 18 new downtown businesses in the past year.

Helping to bring customers to those businesses, the Port Washington Tourism Council carries out a year-around program marketing Port Washington to visitors from far and near, and provides financial support to Main Street.

No one is ready to unfurl a “mission accomplished” banner. Challenges remain, including, among others, the vacant retail spaces in two former pillars of the downtown, the Smith Bros. building and the Biever building, which is warmly remembered as the home of the Ben Franklin store that generated much of that storied Friday night traffic. But there are prospects for both, and reasons to hope they will become part of the evolving downtown success story.

That story really goes beyond the four blocks of Franklin Street and the two of Grand Avenue traditionally called the downtown. Thriving retailers along North Wisconsin Street—let’s call it the “greater Port Washington downtown”—are contributing significantly to the growing appeal of the city to shoppers.

One of them is Sanfilippo’s Sentry Food Store, the city’s only supermarket (don’t even think about life here without a food store), which is helping the cause of Port Washington’s commercial resurgence with its leadership of the “Shop Port, Think Local” campaign.

The Sentry store makes a point of including local products among its offerings. Beyond that, it organized a holiday open house featuring 12 Port merchants and a plethora of shop-local promotions and is spreading the message that shopping in the community is not just a convenience for residents, but a way to make the community stronger.

These shop-at-home messages have historically been a tough sell. Families, understandably, have their own priorities, sometimes including the lowest price and the best selection even at the cost of a long drive. But there is a sense that is changing. Local stores are offering items that can’t be found in malls, and doing it with a friendly small-town attitude. And the idea that sound, complete communities need thriving commercial centers in order to offer all the advantages of small-town living is starting to resonate.

The downtowns of Port Washington and of communities like it across America were victims of societal changes they couldn’t control—essentially the invention of freeways and shopping malls. Now societal change may be coming to their rescue.

Urban planners and demographers are seeing a rejection of the driving culture as a way of life and the embrace of small, self-sustaining communities, where both the necessities and pleasures of life are close to home. A survey by the National Association of Realtors found that members of the most influential demographic group, the baby boomers, increasingly want to shed their outsized suburban homes and live in compact, walkable communities.

Welcome to Port Washington. Thanks to ubiquitous sidewalks, a system of public stairways, the Harbor Walk, the Interurban Trail and parks and beaches made for walking, this is the quintessential walkable community—one with a downtown and “greater downtown” well worth walking, and driving, to.

 
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