Business owners in Hartford want a road to expansion

By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT - Daily News

Jan. 26, 2016

Work on the state’s Highway 83 reconstruction project in Hartford began earlier this month. Hartford officials want to work with county officials to have a reliever route constructed to reduce heavy truck traffic congestion and improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of Sumner Street (Highway 60) and Main Street (Highway 83).
Joe VanDeLaarschot/ Daily News

At least nine Hartford business leaders want to make navigating the area easier by creating a road to accommodate industry. Talk of a $8.5 million-proposed business expansion is also a reason to get the plan in motion.

In a letter, the nine leaders asked Washington County officials to make the project a priority with state transportation officials. They say millions of dollars in business creation, along with hundreds of jobs, could go elsewhere if the request is not met.

“This is a very exciting and fast-moving discussion,” County Administrator Joshua Schoemann said. “Our corporate citizens in Hartford are working hard to get government moving quickly. I believe we should embrace this momentum and try to capture the energy in a positive way.”

The Hartford officials want a solution in the next five years.

“Past discussions indicated we’re not talking about a huge four-lane bypass here,” Schoemann said. “We’re talking about a possible two-lane county trunk highway that will have a more direct route to the industrial parks. This would also improve safety downtown.”

Hartford Area Development Corp. Executive Director Tom Hostad said there is “some urgency attached to our request for action.”

Besides Hostad, other companies or local officials who signed the letter included: Triton Trailers, Helgesen Industries, Wendorff Brothers Companies, Laufer Trucking and Wacker Drive Logistics, Signicast, Broan-Nutone and former Hartford Savings Bank President Ken Braun.

Hostad said one of Washington County’s key employers, Broan-Nutone, is considering doubling the size of its Hartford distribution center, but knows expansion will mean more shipments, further congestion and increased truck traffic. The expansion would cost about $8.5 million.

“They’ll consider other options outside the county, causing us to lose an opportunity to grow jobs and business here if a solution can’t be found,” Hostad said.

Jeff Mueller, company group president, has indicated he would need an answer by April for him to include the Hartford expansion in his plans. He is also looking for assurances the initiative would be completed in the next five years.

“The volume of truck traffic in particular on Highway 60 has grown significantly over several years and we feel that it is time to address this issue with the identification and creation of a reliever route,” the leaders said in the letter. “This was first seen as an issue in the 1990s and considerable time and money were spent to evaluate it. A reasonable proposal died in committee. Since then, Hartford has experienced significant growth.” The 1990 population was 8,188, while the population in 2015 was estimated at 14,500.

Signicast President and CEO Todd McDonald said the increasing traffic volume causes issues for his company and its customers.

“It’s also bad for Hartford’s downtown to have the traffic it does because of the trucks,” McDonald said. “You take your life in your own hands trying the cross the intersection to get to one of the restaurants. It’s also difficult for some of the trucks to make the sharp turns off Highway 60 onto Highway 83 and vice versa.”

McDonald agreed the problem needs to be rectified for the trucks, businesses and pedestrians in the downtown.

“Many of our employers have embraced modern manufacturing practices to stay competitive. As a result they are bringing in raw materials on a daily basis as well as shipping at a more frequent rate,” according to the letter. “This has resulted in a significant growth in truck volume in the last 10 years.”

The group said the number of trucks traveling on Highway 60 is unknown, but a 24 percent increase in volume between 2010 and 2013 is based on Wisconsin Department of Transportation statistics. “One only needs to stand at the intersection of highways 60 and 83 in downtown to understand,” they said. “Trucks traveling east or west on Highway 60 are likely destined for the industrial parks or are leaving after picking up a shipment. Trucks guided by GPS Systems attempt to turn onto Main Street and then travel through downtown to State Street to turn west to access businesses in the Western Industrial Park.”

The Hartford Police Department responded to eight truck-related accidents at highways 60 and 83 in 2015, compared to one in 2014 and four in 2013. Pedestrian safety is another concern.

Schoemann said he has learned the WCA Highway Association is working on a promotional campaign to help with funding and making state legislators aware of the problem.

Hostad said project funding would likely come from several sources — possibly the county, city and maybe the state.

Officials at each of the companies that signed the letter did not return calls for comment. Washington County Executive Committee members will discuss the route at a 9 a.m. Monday meeting at the Courthouse. Transportation Committee members will discuss the issue at a meeting at 8 a.m. Feb. 2 at the vehicle maintenance facility, 900 Lang St.

Reach reporter Joe VanDeLaarschot at jvan@conleynet.com.