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Local officials weigh in on north-south corridor controversy

Officials want to use the reserved money for various road improvements

Local officials weigh in on north-south corridor controversy

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - For more than six decades, local officials have been looking for ways to make transportation in La Crosse more efficient.

Right now, La Crosse has three main corridors connecting the north and south side, but some are wondering if an upgrade would help with congestion during rush hour.

The most recent study was conducted in 1998 and it proposed a roadway through the La Crosse River Marsh. Community members were quick to speak up and oppose the proposed highway, leaving the Department of Transportation with millions of dollars.

Now about 15 years later, the DOT still has about $140 million set aside for transportation improvements in the region and is wondering if local officials would like to go ahead with a new study.

The debate over a fourth north-south corridor in La Crosse dates back to 1946, when it was originally proposed.

"The original north-south corridor when it was presented was a major road thoroughfare that was designed to carry large amounts of traffic through the city of La Crosse," said mayor of La Crescent, Minn., Mike Poellinger.

Poellinger said since then, numerous studies have been carried out, but nothing has been done.

"That was met with a lot of local opposition and ultimately a referendum, which defeated the city participation and any kind of funding for that new roadway," said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

Kabat said it would have cut right through the La Crosse River Marsh and Indian Hill neighborhood.

"If you think about Sixth Street and Seventh Street extended to the north, it went through a good chunk of that neighborhood and that was a big part of the opposition. I mean people were really concerned they would be losing homes and it would be a detriment to those neighborhoods," said Kabat.

If you fast forward to today, the Department of Transportation is sitting on millions of dollars, just waiting for the city of La Crosse to use it.

"One of the things that LAPC has tried to do with their long-range planning is keeping the funds that were originally designated for the planning in there. So every year when we re-approve the $140 million, everybody gets excited," said Poellinger.

"I think anytime you mention transportation planning or looking at regional transportation in this area, people automatically assume you are talking about the north-south corridor," said Kabat.

With emotions running high and a long history of debate,deciding what to do with the money could be tricky

"The DOT is asking us, basically La Crosse are you interested in an updated study and potentially these monies or not, because if you are not interested we will go somewhere else," said Kabat

Kabat and Poellinger think it's important to take advantage of the money, however, they would like to focus it in different areas.

"I don't think you will ever see a design like the original corridor. I think you are going to see improvements with existing streets and better connections," said Poellinger.

"Some ideas that people have had is to do more east and west circulators with either the bus or making it easier for people, pedestrian and bicycles to get to the downtown. I think those efforts would lead to better results," said Kabat.

Either way, a decision needs to be made and both local officials hope it is an open-minded one.

"I think it's worth at least a conversation to see if the local community is interested in a study," said Kabat.

"I think there is a need for a study I think everything needs to be looked at after a period of time and we are at that period of time where we need to take a broad view of what's happening and what has happened," said Poellinger

Wisconsin is usually on an eight-year budget planning cycle. If La Crosse decides to give the money up now, it may be another six to seven years before enough money can be put back into a fund to make any major planning and improvements on roadways in the area.

Mayor Kabat is working on a resolution for the next city council meeting in March to talk about whether or not the DOT should move forward with the study.

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