If the Wisconsin Department of Transportation won’t address problems with La Crosse Street, the city of La Crosse will do it itself, Mayor Tim Kabat said Wednesday.
“The goal is to repair and rebuild La Crosse Street and then send DOT a bill,” the mayor said.
Kabat has told city staff in the engineering, utilities and street departments to gather estimates and data to determine the total scope and cost of rebuilding or repaving La Crosse Street.
“Ideally, we’d be able to do the whole street, the whole length from Losey Boulevard to downtown, but we may have to do it in phases,” Kabat said.
The project will be included in the 2019 capital improvement budget process, which will start going before the city’s Plan Commission this summer.
“It’s beyond its functional life, and we need to get it fixed. We can’t wait for the state to live up to its responsibility,” Kabat said.
Because the road is classified as a connecting highway, meaning it’s a local street that carries a state highway through a municipality, the state is responsible for rebuilding it while the city is in charge of maintenance with the help of state connecting highway aid.
According to WisDOT planning chief Steve Flottmeyer, the state has plans for a 2025 Hwy. 16 project, just outside its usual six-year program.
“They’re relatively firm. Things could change, but what we need to do is review the needs and come up with some type of improvement for that section,” Flottmeyer said.
However, the mayor said La Crosse Street needs repairs now.
“I can’t imagine waiting another seven years before that gets addressed. The road isn’t going to be able to last that long,” Kabat said.
Council member Barb Janssen, who represents the area, has lived half a block off of La Crosse Street since 1996.
“I’ve heard talk of the state redoing that road for the entire time I’ve lived in La Crosse,” Janssen said.
The potholes and bumps are stuff of local legend, despite city efforts to smooth out the road through maintenance.
“The street department has worked so hard to try and keep the potholes filled in the entire city, but when the base is that bad, you can fill it in the morning and it’s out again in the afternoon,” Janssen said.
While the city works on temporary fixes, she said, it’d be wiser to put that money toward a solution.
“I do support a long-term fix, even if it did involve city funds. I’d rather the state do their job and pay for it, but I think that’s going to take citizens getting on the phone, writing letters and contacting their state representatives,” Janssen said.
The street has long been a priority for the Grandview Emerson Neighborhood Association, which set aside a portion of its neighborhood improvement funds — provided by the city in 2016 — to improving pedestrian crossings, while Janssen was co-chair of the group.
“It keeps getting delayed, so it’d be nice to get something done,” Janssen said.
The city’s scope will be limited to the current road’s footprint, with two lanes, rather than four, according to the mayor.
“We’re not interested in widening it. It functions just fine the way it is as far as traffic capacity. It just needs to be fixed,” Kabat said.
The mayor plans to preserve the bicycle routes, which are painted on the side of the street but nearly unusable because of the condition of the road.
“I’m hoping when this thing does get repaired, bike lanes would still be part of that,” he said.
It’s unclear what would happen if the state refused to reimburse the city for the work.
“That would be very unfortunate if the state took that position,” Kabat said; however, he added, “If push comes to shove, we’ve got to get the road fixed, and we’re going to go ahead and move forward with that.”
The city has also set aside funds to do three spot repairs this year at the intersections of La Crosse and Fourth Street, West Avenue and Losey Boulevard.