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Friday, September 23, 2005

DOT needs to listen to local officials

I drove Whitewater’s new Highway 12 bypass Wednesday morning to see for myself the stretch of road that has seen two fatal accidents in recent weeks.

The new bypass has been the source of a great deal of concern and conversation around Walworth County ever since it opened.

Nearly everyone from Whitewater whom I’ve talked to in recent weeks has commented how disorienting it is to cross the new road, and it was easy to tell who the local drivers were Wednesday morning as they approached the Highway 89 intersection.

All of the cars in front of me began to slow way down as they approached the slight rise in the road before the intersection.

I suspect they were being as cautious as I was.

Passing the intersection, you could see that construction crews were already on hand making improvements.
But for Kimberly Morris, a UW-W freshman who died Sept. 8 at the Highway 89 intersection, and Michael. M. Kennett, of Lake Bluff, who died a week ago Friday at the Highway P intersection, those changes won’t come soon enough.

Among those who expressed concern over the new bypass was Ron Fero, Whitewater’s town chairman.
Fero says the town board lobbied for a bridge at that intersection from the very beginning, but with no success. At least, he says, they should have installed lights. In our story last Sunday on the bypass, Fero said, “We begged the DOT. We literally pleaded for lights.”

A fair question to ask is why local officials and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds on this during the planning stages.

It takes many years to plan a project of this magnitude, and the DOT has sophisticated resources to analyze traffic flows and research safety options.

There’s no reason that by the time officials arrive to cut the ribbon, there’s still disagreement on design.
Perhaps the lesson in this fiasco is that local input and concerns need to get a fair hearing and higher priority early on in the decision-making process of future transportation projects.
There needs to be a better process to address and resolve local concerns.
That’s not to say the DOT is unresponsive to local concerns.

For example, in June of 2003, the intersection of highways J and 20 near East Troy was one of the county’s deadliest. That’s when two new stop signs were installed at the urging of former Walworth County Board Supervisor Dell Gigante, making the intersection a four-way stop.

There had been six fatalities in the six years prior. Since the signs were installed there have been none, according to DOT regional traffic safety engineer Chris Quesnell.

More recently, lights have been installed at the intersection of highways 12/67 and Potters Road north of Elkhorn—until then Walworth County’s most dangerous intersection.

And the DOT was quick to install temporary signs and begin work on changing the configuration of the intersections as soon as it became evident there were serious safety issues.

But the reactive nature of addressing safety concerns puts too many motorists at risk.

Improved dialogue and responsiveness to local concerns need to be a part of the process from early on.
In the meantime, there’s practically no way into Whitewater from the rest of Walworth County without encountering Highway 12.

So just remember, there’s no way to be too cautious.

Post continued HERE

Friday, September 16, 2005

How to keep your feet off the ground

If he had his wish, I suspect my son would spend half his time suspended in mid-air.

He and his buddies have taken to skateboarding in the last few years, and despite my initial reservations, I’ve come to appreciate the effort they put into their sport.

Boarders today aren’t the black-dressed rule-flaunting rebels that adults tried to shoo off the public library steps in the 1990s.

Today, they’re more likely stylish ESPN X-game watching athletes riding $100 hi-tech custom-built boards.
In Walworth County, much of that transformation can be credited to efforts in local communities to fund and build skate parks.

Lake Geneva’s Boards Bikes and Blades Park was the first park built in Walworth County, followed by Andy’s Park in Delavan and the Whitewater Rotary Skate Park.

East Troy is currently in the process of raising money for its own park.

Contributing writer Denise Schultz, the mother of a skateboarder herself, took her son Tommy on a tour of Walworth County’s skate parks to review them for this Week’s cover story.

My oldest son’s first skateboard lasted not quite the first afternoon. He had received the board as a birthday gift, and was out in front of the house showing it to one of his friends.

He offered to let his friend give it a try. As his friend stepped on it, he lost his balance and fell backward. The board shot forward into the street. That’s where a passing car ran over it, splitting the board into two useless halves.

His second board (that my son’s friend’s parents thoughtfully bought as a replacement) has been built and rebuilt several times over since then.

In the waning days of summer, I brought my two sons and a group of their friends to Andy’s Park behind the Mill Pond swimming hole in Delavan.

I have to admit, from an anthropological point of view, it’s quite fascinating to watch.
In some ways, the kids reminded me of those documentaries you see on the Nature channel about bees: a sophisticated social unit where each member has a specific role.

There were about 15 kids at the park the day we were there, and first thing I noticed is that without any direct adult supervision, they still seemed to know what to do and were having a good time.
Being involved in youth sports, it was startling to see a group of kids that weren’t being coached, directed, corrected and told when to take a water break.

No one got hurt, if there was foul language, it wasn’t audible from where I sat, and everyone seemed to be generally nice to each other.

When someone wiped out, for example, there was a hearty chorus of “Whoa, dude, you allright?”
There also seemed to be a pretty sophisticated set of unwritten rules the kids abided by.
New arrivals would find a perch atop one of the ramps and observe for 10 minutes or so. I suspect they were getting the lay of the land.

Certain parts of the park had certain patterns that were followed in order to avoid collisions. Eventually pecking order was established depending on the difficulty of tricks they could accomplish.
Those who can land only “Ollie,” defer to those who can “kick flip to a rail and grind back to the bottom of the ramp.”

Of course all didn’t go as I would have preferred it. For example only four out of 14 kids at one point were wearing helmets. (My boys being two of the four.)

But at their age, there are plenty of ways for a kid to spend their time, and much of that doing things you’d rather not have them do.

So if one option is practicing getting airborne over and over again, I say go for it.

East Troy wants its own skate park
Donations to East Troy’s skate park can be made payable to the village of East Troy Skate Park and mailed to Mary Ewaskowitz, 1962 Emery St., East Troy, WI 53120.

Corrections
--The caption for the photograph from the fair of the harness racing in last Sunday’s edition elicited a lengthy and interesting correction and explanation from reader and harness racing fan Shirley Matthes of Elkhorn. Her e-mail is on Sunday's Anything Page, 3B.
--In a story in last Sunday's edition on the impending closure of the Geneva Lakes Greyhound Track, Wisconsin Department of Administration Spokesman Scott Larrivee said that the track had previously gone into foreclosure. The statement was incorrect. Larrivee later corrected his statement to say the track had been experiencing monetary losses for consecutive years, but it was never in foreclosure.

Post continued HERE

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