Madison and Dane County are at an impasse over which government entity will be responsible for future maintenance and improvements of two major thoroughfares in need of reconstruction on Madison's east side.
The major project would reconstruct Cottage Grove Road — or County Highway BB — from Interstate 39 to Sprecher Road into a four-lane, urban boulevard section. It would also replace much of the road including new pavement, curbs, gutters, bike lanes and sidewalks.
The project would also reconstruct Buckeye Road — or County Highway AB — from Monona Drive to Stoughton Road, including adding sidewalks where there are none.
“It is archaic,” Dane County Supervisor Jeff Pertl, District 17, said about the road conditions. “Our first priority is getting this road built.”
The city and county agree on splitting the cost of the project but disagree over the jurisdictional transfer, or who is responsible for services like snow plowing and maintenance. Currently, the city and county split snow plowing responsibilities, each taking over every other year.
Because the roads are also county highways, the segments within the city boundaries are primarily maintained by the county. Broadly, Dane County supports transferring the roads to the city, meaning that Madison would be responsible for all future maintenance and operation costs of the roads.
“As we add county highway lane miles that are connecting communities inside municipal areas, we look to transfer future responsibility of those roads to the city,” Pertl said. “In an area like Buckeye, which is deep within the urban core and right in front of a school, we would say that makes sense.”
However, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin opposes the county’s stance and has proposed transferring the $4.4 million in federal funding for the reconstruction project to four other projects — on Pleasant View Road, East Johnson Street, Atwood Avenue and McKee Road — with funding shortfalls.
Soglin said the city of Madison will not negotiate with Dane County, which he says is holding the project “hostage.”
Dane County has proposed three alternatives to moving forward with the project. They include:
- Incorporating changes or supplemental financial support to the jurisdictional transfer agreement, which could include delaying implementation or providing county-funded supplemental services for a fixed period.
- Splitting jurisdiction of the road, meaning the the county would forgo the jurisdictional transfer of Cottage Grove Road if the city would be in charge of Buckeye Road.
- Conduct a study to determine if more city or county residents use the roads.
“There’s nothing to negotiate here. We each have our own responsibility,” Soglin said. “We are not going to be in a situation where the Dane County government forces us to undertake their responsibility.”
Josh Wescott, chief of staff for Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, said the county is committed to the project and coming to a solution.
“Given Dane County is the fastest growing county in the state, we try to work collaboratively with communities on making sure roads are maintained as effectively as possible when they are rebuilt,” Wescott said. “A number of streets that were quiet country roads the last time they were rebuilt are now busy urban thoroughfares, needing sidewalks for the safety of kids and families, for example.”
Because the project includes federal funds, a decision must be made by Aug. 1 or else it will be allocated to other projects.
The Madison Area Transportation Planning Board pushed off a decision on transferring the funds last week and is expected to take up the issue Aug. 1.
The total construction cost for Buckeye Road is estimated at $4 million, $6 million for Cottage Grove Road. The city has requested that Dane County fund approximately $1.25 million and $1.17 million for Buckeye and Cottage Grove roads, respectively.
“If Dane County refuses to continue with their obligations, then unfortunately, these projects will not go forward,” Soglin said.
The city and county have been working on reconstruction plans for Buckeye and Cottage Grove roads for about two years, committing over $2 million in planning, design and property acquisitions.
In a letter to the Madison Planning Organization, or the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board, area alders and supervisors, including Pertl, Jamie Kuhn, Tanya Buckingham, Amanda Hall and David Ahrens, said that it would be “imprudent” to abandon the project at this time given the past investment in resources.
“The problem is when you say, ‘No how, no way, never,’ that’s a fine political or philosophical position that some people may find satisfying, but what I hear from my constitutens is, ‘We don’t care who pays for it,’” Ahrens said. “We’ve been told this road is going to be repaired.”
Construction was expected to begin on Buckeye Road in 2019 and on Cottage Grove Road in 2020.
If the project is delayed, Ahrens said: “That will just be a shame and an insult to the people who have to use that road.”
Ahrens and Supervisor Jamie Kuhn, District 16, said both the City Council and Board of Supervisors could consider a joint resolution outlining a path forward for the project. However, with about two weeks left allocate the federal funding, the window is narrow.
“It’s just unfortunate that at this point one person could hold it up, but I think the public needs to understand that we are working together and are going to do whatever it takes,” Kuhn said.