Locals push for Maple Avenue interchange

DOT cites high cost as a factor for not pursuing freeway option
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

Work to improve the intersection of state Highway 29 with County Road MMM is expected to take place next year, but members of the public aren’t convinced the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is going with the best option.

Currently, that intersection in the Town of Richmond is one of the riskier places for motor vehicle accidents. The intersection is at an angle of 63 degrees, well below the preferred angles of between 75 and 90 degrees, and the turn lanes onto County Road MMM are 350 feet for those coming from the west and only 25 feet coming from the east. DOT standards for turn lanes for that kind of intersection are between 300 and 550 feet.

DOT has studied the intersection’s crashes from 2012 through 2020. Of the 20 crashes that occurred, nine of those crashes were at an angle, with six of them being severe and resulting in injuries. DOT also reported four rear-end crashes from 2016 through 2020.

The study did not take into account the fatality that occurred in 2022 when there was a crash between a motor vehicle and a motorcycle.

Public input conducted last year asked which of four potential rehabilitation options would be preferable to reduce the number of crashes at that intersection. Of those options, the two that emerged as most popular were a J-turn, which received 11 votes, and a median U-turn, which received seven votes.

Not included as an option but gaining in popularity locally is an option that would divert County Road MMM to Maple Avenue, which passes over Highway 29, and turn that into an interchange similar to what was done recently in Brown County with Highway 29 at County Road VV. The interchange was recommended in 11 of the comments DOT received last fall.

At a public information meeting March 14 at Richmond Town Hall, it was revealed that the interchange idea also received 11 votes by the public in the first round of information gathering, but the DOT is not currently considering it an option. DOT officials at the meeting claimed safety was the top priority, but members in the crowd believed the money was more of a factor. The J-turn option is estimated by DOT to cost $2.72 million, while constructing an interchange could cost anywhere from $10 million to $15 million.

DOT spokesman Andy Casper noted that the Brown County interchange came about because the traffic count in that area swelled to 23,000 cars a day, making the previous J-turn there no longer feasible. He said the County MMM intersection, on the other hand, sees 8,500 cars a day. Further, Casper said plans to turn segments of Highway 29 into a freeway where an interchange would be required are not on the DOT’s radar for at least the next 20 years.

“The J-turn does serve the purpose of improving public safety,” Casper said. “Throughout the state, we’re very satisfied with the J-turn as it relates to injuries and fatal crashes. Nationally, there’s a lot of statistical information that by redirecting that straight movement from the side roads reduces fatal crashes.”

The crowd was not convinced that DOT was taking the public’s input to heart, and many of them feel the interchange would solve more problems than the options DOT has furnished. Richmond resident Luther Busch drives Highway 29 daily and feels an interchange would also allow for easier access to Thornton and allow the state to close off the intersection further up that leads into the unincorporated community, killing two birds with one stone.

“There are major crashes in Thornton, severe ones that have recently happened,” Busch said. “That would give access to Thornton and not require an overpass at MMM. We already have an overpass to use (at Maple Avenue).”

Busch noted that his father experienced a crash 12 years at the County MMM intersection years ago on a foggy day. He also had a friend who was crossing the highway and it resulted in a crash that took off the front end of the vehicle.

“We’re addressing safety here,” Busch said. “An overpass is the only option. If you guys really want the safety and you don’t want the deaths, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Busch pointed out that Maple Avenue is the last of the overpasses for westbound Highway 29 traffic until Wausau that doesn’t already have an interchange.

“Why wouldn’t we do this, considering we already get all the traffic coming from Wausau?” Busch said. “We’re a subdivision of both Green Bay and Wausau, in a way. People drive to Wausau, and many drive 30 miles to Green Bay every day.”

Shawano resident Dick Martens, a retired public engineer, has been one of the driving forces to set up the Maple Avenue interchange. Martens said at the meeting that he does not believe that the project would be as costly as DOT proposes, and that the actual costs would be closer to $4 million.

“If you take a look at per-mile construction costs for ramps, for the frontage road, for the expansion of the bridge, I’ve got $1 million for the frontage road, $1 million for the ramps, half a million to widen that bridge, another million for all the signage — you’ve got $4 million,” Martens said.

Casper argued that the work necessary to build and expand the bridge, which is currently 27 feet, to 36 feet would cost $3.5 million on its own. He also pointed out that relocating County MMM would necessitate acquiring 13 acres of right-of-way from wetland and farmland areas, along with acquiring the Shawano School Forest property and relocating several farm buildings.

Martens didn’t feel Casper’s argument provided accurate information.

“They have not taken a look at this because they have a serious fixation on the fact that this has to be a full freeway conversion for putting in one single interchange,” Martens said. “Why did they put interchanges at Bonduel, (state highways) 47 and 55 (for Shawano) and (state Highway) 22? That’s not a full freeway. All we need to do is upgrade that existing facility, and we’ll have a permanent solution instead of wasting money on a temporary solution.”

While safety is a key factor for rehabilitating the intersection, the pavement also needs to be replaced; it was last upgraded in 1999, according to Stephanie Christensen, a consultant with ECMS, Inc., a civil engineering firm in Wausau.



Public comments on the Highway 29/County Road MMM intersection project are due March 28. Residents can complete the comment form on the project website, www.wisconsindot.gov/pages/projects/by-region/nc/wis29countymmm/default.... and mail it to project manager Andrew Casper at 1681 S. Second Ave., Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54495. Comments can also be sent to Casper by email at andrew.casper@dot.wi.gov.