Anyone who has driven the West Beltline over the last decade has witnessed a maddening increase in traffic: trucks headed for other cities, commuters on their way to work, travelers coming into Madison or surrounding areas. This has made the Beltline less effective as a traffic corridor, and more dangerous.
Now the state Department of Transportation plans to upgrade Hwy. 151, a.k.a. Verona Road, from highway to freeway status. This will increase the volume and speed of traffic entering the West Beltline. Add in traffic from residential and commercial development near Hwy. 151, combined with increased truck traffic, and you have a recipe for traffic jams.
Minor accidents on the Beltline cause long delays. Major accidents like the truck collision with the Seminole Road bridge are a lesson in how vulnerable commuters are to a shutdown of the Beltline. Alternative arteries are not designed to move large amounts of traffic to and from the west side of Madison. Think of a Beltline shutdown during a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
Before the state decides to commit more than $200 million from an increasingly limited transportation budget to increase Beltline gridlock, perhaps it's time to research a south Beltline reliever. Part of this route (Hwy. 14 from Oregon to Madison) already exists as an underused four-lane highway. And Hwy. 151 in Verona could be linked to Oregon via County Hwy. M, for a far lower land-acquisition cost than the proposed Verona Road/Beltline interchange.
This Beltline reliever could eventually be connected to I-90 following existing highways from Oregon to Stoughton. (For those concerned with urban sprawl resulting from this new route, one only has to travel Hwy. 14 from Oregon to Madison, a highway that is nearly 50 years old, to see how limiting access to this road has limited development and sprawl.)
This is not a wacky idea, but one that has considerable support among political players in Dane County.
Former County Board Supv. David Blaska said during his recent campaign, 'We need to build a new south bypass around Madison and south of Fitchburg, one that can siphon truck and long-distance traffic off of Hwys. 18 and 151 near Verona and divert it toward the four-lane Hwy. 14 just north of Oregon, eventually connecting directly to I-90/94.'
Meanwhile, there is widespread concern about and opposition to the proposed Verona Road expansion. 'In my view, the realistic potential for big capacity improvements to Verona Road and the West Beltline are minimal at best,' says Bob Cook of the Transportation Development Association. 'There simply is not enough right-of-way available to significantly expand capacity, and what is there would be very expensive.'
Now is the time to advance an alternative, before the state irreversibly commits resources to the current plan.