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Stevens Point: Business 51 construction out, Hoover/Country Club overpass in


STEVENS POINT, Wis. (WSAU) -- Stevens Point officials are making a major change in their priorities for road construction. A presentation was made to the Board of Public Works outlining options for Hoover Avenue and Country Club Drive to either go over or under the Canadian National Railroad.

The busy street is one of two ways for traffic to get from the Interstate to the city’s industrial park, and train traffic often backs up cars and trucks. Fire Station #2 is close to the crossing, and emergency vehicles often have to go around trains.

Mayor Andrew Halverson says the project was not considered before because of the high cost. “We had always ruled out, just because of the sheer initial estimates of dollars, that a grade separation would be financially impossible, and now as the estimates have come down into the 12 million to 12.3 million (range), it’s still a massive sum of money but palatable if you look at the money that we’ve got on hand, specifically from the jurisdictional transfer of Church and Division Streets.”

Halverson says the city plans to get permission to shift grant funding for Business 51 along with the dollars Stevens Point received from the state for taking jurisdiction of Business 51 towards the grade separation project. “We’re going to look to get approval from the DOT to shift that 2.7 million in STP urban grant dollars to be applied to this project, which is eligible, and which is by far a significant ten-fold greater priority for our citizens than Business 51 at the moment, and the 6 million that we have on hand, so really, given the 80-20 nature of the STP (Surface Transportation Program) Urban dollars, we’re really talking about real construction impact of about 10 million on hand.”

The mayor says having the ability to take care of that important railroad crossing far outweighs the need to work on Business 51 at this time. “We can fill potholes and cracks for a long time on Business 51. What we can’t do is move those trains, and we know the amount of our citizens that are clearly affected by this, and it’s something that we clearly have to take action on. We know we can do it. We know that it’s financially feasible. We know that we have two eligible TIF (Tax Incremental Tax) districts that really, the debt service can be also charged to to offset the impact to the general taxpayer, so this is a project that we need to put on the front burner.”

Committee members heard four proposals Monday night. Two that would be underpasses and two that would be overpasses. The lowest cost option is an overpass with mostly sloped sides and fewer retaining walls for 12.3 million dollars. Halverson wants to see this project approved and built quickly. “Our target will be to fast track its construction to start in the spring of 2016, so, one year for planning and design which will be 2015 and then in the ground in the spring of 2016.”

The mayor says he is certain this is the right move for the city of Stevens Point, knowing how much feedback they get from residents all over the city. “We’re very confident that given the sheer fact that this is the number one statistical complaint that we, here in our office and every alderperson hears about, the one that we hear most frequently, this is the one that we can also clearly now define a financial path to construction, and we’ve been waiting for a long time for this.”

The railroad bridge project will be back before the Finance Committee and the Board of Public Works next month to select a preferred alternative. It is likely to be the overpass with sloped sides, since that is 3.4 million dollars less expensive than the next cheapest option.

(Listen to our interview with Mayor Andrew Halverson on our website, here.)