Owning land would facilitate future reconstruction of the heavily traveled intersection; perhaps pave way for a roundabout
Demonstrating its independence once again, the Oconomowoc Common Council Tuesday night told city staff it did not support purchasing a lot at the intersection of Silver Lake Street and Summit Avenue, something city staff wanted in advance of reconstructing the intersection.
Because funds for the $165,000 purchase were not included in the current city budget, staff asked the council to support a budget amendment which would have used reserve funds for the purchase.
Budget amendments require a two-thirds approval vote from the council, and that higher bar proved to be the amendment’s downfall as a simple majority of the council voted to approve the purchase.
That was not enough to meet the two-thirds requirement and when aldermen Matt Rosek (District 3) and Derek Zwart (District 2) voted against the purchase, it failed.
Staff, headed by Mark Frye, the city’s DPW head, wanted to purchase the lot at 304 Silver Lake Street “for future construction of intersection improvements.”
Not decided yet is what those improvements will look like. Fyre, in a report to the aldermen, outlined several options ranging from just replacing the intersection’s outdated traffic signals to the construction of a roundabout.
Complicating the matter for Frye was a city-commissioned traffic study that surprisingly showed that the number of accidents at the heavily traveled intersection were actually slightly less than the average for such an intersection. Frye, however, countered that once school started in September another study would be conducted and that he felt it would support his belief that the traffic flow was significant and that improvements to the intersection would not only reduce the number of accidents, but also their potential. He also said new traffic patterns would make the intersection safer for motorists, citing studies that have shown that roundabouts significantly reduce the type of accidents–no more t-boning for example–and the seriousness of injuries.
Alderman Ken Herro, countered that the use of roundabouts was not pedestrian- or bicycle-friendly and that he was concerned that a roundabout, which might cost the city upwards to $250,000 to build, would present challenges for students who cross through the intersection on their way to the high school.
Alderman Matt Rosek, who is ever diligent when it comes to city spending, suggested that once the property acquisition cost ($165,000) plus the potential roundabout costs were considered, the city was looking at at spending more than $500,000 to rebuild the intersection and he wondered if there were other less expensive options available to the city.
Frye said that just replacing the signals could run as much as $150,000 and that approach might be even more expensive if the replacement of the signals required the purchase of land from homeowners or property owners at the four corners.
Frye tried to convince that aldermen that expected future growth in the city’s downtown area would make acquiring the property a smart move because it would give the city flexibility from a planning perspective. Two aldermen, Jeff Schmidt and Charlie Shaw, agreed that philosophically it made sense for the city to make strategic purchases of land when doing so could facilitate future changes in the city’s land use. Schmidt suggested that in the past the city has not always made such purchases and then regretted not doing so later.
In the end, however, with Rosek and Zwart (“I am waffling on this”) voting no, the resolution authorizing the purchase failed to gain the required two-thirds votes needed for passage. Voting for the purchase were Mike Miller (District 3), Shaw (District 4), Tom Strey (District 2), Schmidt (District 1), and Herro (District 2). There were only seven aldermen available to vote on the issue because because former District 4 alderman Dave Nold, who probably would have voted for the purchase, is now serving as the city’s mayor and the mayor votes only in the case of a tie.
Like many items that come before the council, the issue will probably come back to it for another vote in the future. Frye, however, may use a different approach now that he has a sense for how the aldermen feel about the purchase, the reconstruction of the intersection, and the potential overall costs. Plus, all he needs is one more vote. Accordingly, Frye may wait until a new alderman for District 4 is elected and sworn in in Novemener to come back to the council.