Will DOT money extension help La Crosse transportation?

Local officials hope extension leads to new solutions

La Crosse is getting more time to talk about the transportation needs in the city.

The Wisconsin Transportation Projects Commission approved a one-year extension of the nearly $140 million set aside for improving infrastructure.  

Here’s a quick look at what led up to this extension. In 1997, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation set aside millions of dollars to help with transportation infrastructure in the region. To look at what was needed, the DOT did a study in 1998 and suggested a north-south corridor that would run right through the marsh.

Since then, the city has been reluctant to take part in any other study involving transportation because it often leads back to talks about a road through the marsh. However, a recent letter from the DOT in September talking about possibly pulling the funding has the city and its officials taking another look at transportation in hopes of spurring new ideas.

“This has been going on since 1996. How much longer is it going to go on?” said Charley Weeth, president of Livable Neighborhoods.

For decades, residents of La Crosse have been talking about ways to improve transportation in the city.

“We’ve got some unique features because of our geography and we are really a long and narrow city that has constraints,” said La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat.

And as La Crosse continues to be the hub for work and entertainment, everyone agrees something needs to happen.

“The No. 1 destination is down here, so that is where it would be built,” said Weeth.

Early on, the DOT suggested a north-south corridor through the La Crosse River Marsh.

“This notion of another corridor through neighborhoods and through the marsh, it’s a non-starter from the beginning,” said Kabat.

Others suggested adding more lanes to the area of West Avenue and La Crosse Street.

“If La Crosse Street were to go to four lanes, there are folks over there, especially in the area north of La Crosse Street, that are concerned and they are holding back on investment,” said Weeth.

But with roadblocks in both directions, many hope the yearlong extension from the state DOT spurs new ideas.

“We need to move beyond this road and take a look at a comprehensive plan,” said Weeth.

“The last thing I want is to go through a yearlong study and come back with a preferred option through the marsh and neighborhoods. Well, the city is not going to accept that so we have to come up with very clear goals heading into this of what we would really like to see,” said Kabat.

In January, Kabat will be advocating for a resolution in the City Council that will create a city-led consensus-building process where local officials and residents can look at alternatives and long-term transportation recommendations that will fit into the DOT’s process.

In the meantime, the state department will begin updating its environmental documentation of the area.