'Hairball' intersection (copy)

The first leg of improvements to the intersection at John Nolen Drive and East Wilson, Williamson and Blair streets is nearly complete. The second round of improvements are scheduled for 2022. 

Navigating the “hairball”  intersection at Williamson and East Wilson streets should be easier at the end of this week when construction is expected to be finished on the summer project that has snarled traffic on the near east side.

This will complete half of the improvements envisioned for the major intersection and east side gateway to Madison’s downtown. Future work on John Nolen Drive and Blair Street is scheduled for 2022. 

The cross-section of John Nolen Drive and Blair, East Wilson and Williamson streets can be confusing for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. It lacks a left-turn lane, causing vehicles attempting to turn onto East Wilson Street from John Nolen Drive to stack up in the intersection. And motorists have limited options for entering and exiting the Machinery Row complex.

“I think what it will do is provide a more organized path for cyclists crossing the intersection. It will provide a better and alternate connection to the Capital City trail at Blount Street,” city transportation director Tom Lynch said of the improvements. “It will help eventually alleviate some of the problems with entering the Machinery Row driveway.” 

The recommendations came out of a two-year planning process and a study of the Blair Street corridor.  

Hannah Mohelnitzky, the Engineering Division’s public information officer, said the work on the first leg of the project is expected to be completed by Friday and has been ongoing since April. 

This portion of the project replaced the curb, pavement and sidewalk, where needed, and updated the street lighting. The sanitary sewer was also replaced. 

The project also created separate, off-street bike and pedestrian paths on Williamson and Blount streets. A new traffic signal with diagonal crossing will also be installed at the Blount Street intersection to create a safer path through the intersection for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Also on Williamson Street, the terraces were widened to create better separation between vehicles and off-street cyclists and pedestrians. This also created a better environment to plan new street trees, according to Mohelnitzky. 

Finally, the railroad crossing through the intersection was replaced. 

The remaining work on Blair Street and John Nolen Drive will include adding left turn lanes on Blair and John Nolen and reconfiguring the bike path and driveway at the Machinery Row corner. 

The city is coordinating with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to replace the pavement on Blair Street and on the outbound lanes of East Washington Avenue between Blair and Blount streets. 

Discover Madison news, via the Cap Times

Sign up for the Cap Times Daily Features email!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Due to other projects in the area, traffic on the near east side and through the isthmus has been affected. In addition to the “hairball intersection,” the city is also working on Park Street and East Johnson Street. Most recently, the 700 block of East Main Street is closed for cleanup efforts in response to the fire at a Madison Gas and Electric substation

During the initial planning, the city did not expect to work on Williamson and Wilson streets in 2019, but the condition of the pavement necessitated expediting the work. 

“The pavement was really falling apart,” Lynch said. 

With the work on Park Street and on Williamson and Wilson streets, access to the downtown has been restricted for the south and near east sides of the city. 

“It would have been nicer if one or the other was staggered,” Lynch said. 

Mohelnitzky said the city worked with the contractor to provide two lanes on inbound Williamson Street whenever possible. Traffic Engineering also worked to adjust signal timing throughout the construction to help traffic move efficiently. Additionally, the city included signal bike detours during construction. 

“We have tried to coordinate the projects as best we can to maintain travel through the area,” Mohelnitzky said. 

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.