You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
top story
Mayor Tim Kabat says city will fix La Crosse Street — and he wants the state to pay for it

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.

10 most crash-prone state highway intersections in La Crosse County

10 most crash-prone state highway intersections in La Crosse County

Mom credits La Crosse doctor: 'She saved my daughter's life'

HOLMEN — Being born on Easter Sunday, Marbree Ustby had the miracle of life going for her from the get-go, bolstered by steadfast parents and a marvelous confluence of doctors in the right place at the right time to save her life.

Marbree, the 10-month-old daughter of Megan and Brent Ustby, seemed fine at birth and was discharged routinely from Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, her parents said during an interview in their Holmen home.

“She screamed and cried when she was born, and slept well and nursed right away,” Megan said.

Four days later, Marbree quit nursing, and blood appeared in her diaper, her mom said.


That’s when the first right place-right time incident occurred, as the Ustbys happened to be at Mayo-Franciscan because Brent was having carpal tunnel surgery. He had scheduled time off from his job at Inland in La Crosse in conjunction with Marbree’s birth so he wouldn’t have to take time twice, he explained.

While Brent underwent the knife, Megan took Marbree to urgent care, where Dr. Jennifer Brumm, a pediatrician, was on duty. Realizing how sick Marbree was but needing a consult, Brumm was able to summon Dr. Susan Maclellan-Tobert, a pediatric cardiologist at Gundersen Health System who was making a call at Mayo-Franciscan at the time, for assistance.

Multiple organ failure

They determined that Marbree was suffering from multiple organ failure and would have to be airlifted to Mayo Clinic Health System in Rochester. Severe weather had grounded helicopters, so Marbree was transported on a fixed-wing aircraft, the Ustbys said.

Marbree’s heart defects included, in technical terms, coarctation of the aorta, bicuspid aortic valve and atrial septal defect. In laypeople’s terms, the problems prevented Marbree’s blood from flowing properly through her body.

The Ustbys were torn with conflicting feelings — from the abject fear that Marbree might die, which was a distinct possibility, to the assurances from hospital staffers that they were blessed to be in the right place at the right time.

Erik Daily 

Brent and Megan Ustby, with their children Braxton, 4, and Marbree, 10 months, are preparing to host the first event of the local chapter they are forming of Lasting Imprint, an organization that promotes awareness of congenital heart defects. They plan for the chapter to be a source of support of other parents and families grappling with heart defects, as Marbree did.

Because Marbree was so young, and her organs were failing, surgery was delayed while she received medication to strengthen her for the surgery.

“As long as the medication worked, she could recover. If not, she would have died, said Megan, who works at Logistics Health Inc. in La Crosse.

The medicine stabilized Marbree enough for surgery, and Dr. Sameh Said, a Mayo cardiothoracic surgeon, repaired the coarctation and opened the narrowed aorta when the infant was 10 days old.

Marbree was able to go home, with a feeding tube, two weeks later, with plans for weekly visits with Brumm to monitor the situation.

During one such visit a month later, Brumm noticed that Marbree’s blood pressure was low and she had little pulses in her femoral arteries in her legs.

So it was back to Rochester for a second surgery to patch her heart. After surgery, Marbree coded twice, once from a blood clot doctors removed during another surgery and another, for pulmonary hypertension that required opening her up again in her room, the Ustbys said.

The couple remains awed at what the physicians were able to do, with Megan saying, “I love talking about it now. They say your heart is as big as your fist, and that little baby — that little heart.”

That little heart is beating so well these days that Marbree is like a whirling dervish at home, scooting around the living room and giving her 4-year-old brother, Braxton, a run for his money.

“She caught up quickly,” said Megan, who wears a necklace with the inscription “Heart Mom.” “She caught on to everything. She lost the feeding tube and was eating solids at 6 months. She’s a peanut for her age, but she’s on the charts.”

The Ustbys are grateful for Brumm’s vigilance.

“She saved my daughter’s life. Without her skills that day in the ER, I don’t know if she’d be alive,” Megan said. “She was just the right person to be there at the right time.”

Brumm: Survival result of team effort

For her part, Brumm said she has treated other children with heart defects, “but nobody presented quite as dramatically as Marbree. It’s good they were here when she presented.”

Brumm also maintains that Marbree’s survival is the result of a team effort of hospital staffers from neonatal intensive care to cardiology.

“There were some things in our favor, and some challenges we were able to overcome,” she said.

Of Marbree, Brumm says, “Isn’t she amazing? She shows the resiliency of kids.”

Marbree also is testimony to the perseverance of the Ustbys, who are forming a local chapter of Lasting Imprint, a nonprofit that provides education, support and research funding for congenital heart disease.

Megan also sells T-shirts to raise money for Dr. Said and his research team, who are working to improve surgical outcomes for patients like Marbree.

Not that the family has had easy sailing, with both Brent and Megan saying that the experience is hard to explain to most people.

“There is nothing like going through it,” Brent said, adding that even comments such as “everything will be OK” can ring hollow when a family is in the throes of the struggle.

Often, what is most helpful is when a person “just comes and takes you out for lunch, or says, ‘Let’s go get a coffee,’ without talking about it, just talking about sports or other things,” Brent said.

“It sucks,” said Megan, who has grappled with PTSD, anxiety and depression because of Marbree’s maladies, piled onto normal postpartum blues. “But it’s OK not to be OK. You don’t have to tell people you’re fine. I was smart enough to get help.

“The biggest thing I hear from other heart families is when they say, ‘I know you’re not fine — tell me how you’re doing.’ They get it, because they almost lost a child,” she said.

The Ustbys said about 30 people have signed up to attend the first event of their Lasting Imprint chapter, as part of Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week, from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse at 207 Fifth Ave. La Crosse, to which the public is invited.

They hope the chapter can be a source of support for other families who encounter such difficulties.

That endeavor has earned the admiration of Brumm, who said, “Marbree’s family has really reached out to the community. I think that’s important … and it’s nice seeing a support group to help provide resources.”

Todd Sommerfeldt / Tribune file photo 

Onalaska's Carson Arenz shoots against Holmen's Sawyer Phillips during an MVC game at Holmen. Arenz, a sophomore, has been a key piece in the Hilltoppers leading the MVC and becoming the state's third-ranked Division 2 team.


Study: Mississippi River shutdown could cost millions, put hundreds more trucks on roads

A new study suggests the failure of any one of 25 aging locks on the upper Mississippi River could result in nearly half a million truckloads of freight on highways between the Twin Cities and St. Louis.

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers estimate that a shutdown of the river at Hannibal, Mo., would require more than 12 million tons of grain during a nine-month shipping season to be moved by truck, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and damaging already stressed roads.

The vast majority of these shipments would travel through southern Minnesota and Iowa, while a smaller amount would move through Wisconsin and Illinois, according to the study, causing nearly $29 million in pavement damage.

Contributed illustration 

A map produced by the Center for Freight & Infrastructure Research & Education shows projected increases in agricultural freight hauled by trucks in the event of a Mississippi River shutdown. Rural Minnesota and Iowa roads would see the largest increase on a percentage basis with nearly 600 trucks per day hauling grain from ports in the Twin Cities and Red Wing.

The study was funded by the 10 states of the Mid-America Freight Coalition, an organization dedicated to planning, operating and improving transportation infrastructure in the Midwest.

“We’re talking about a system,” said Ernest Perry, manager of the coalition and the lead researcher on the study. “If we don’t take care of this one part of the system it’s going to negatively impact another part of the system.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated the backlogged maintenance costs for locks and dams of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers is more than $1 billion. Mostly built in the 1930s, many of the locks have reached the end of their service lives, and the inland waterway system has earned a D-minus from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The lock and dams between Winona and La Crosse are more than 80 years old.

Bryan Peterson, navigation business line manager for the St. Paul District, said the Corps has been working in recent years to address maintenance issues as the budget allows.

“We definitely have needs,” he said. “I think we’re maintaining them well enough until we can fill those needs.”

Peterson said over the past five years the river has been open about 99 percent of the time, with most closures resulting from vessels hitting the gates rather than mechanical failure.

“It’s always a potential,” he said. “It’s a pretty good record, but there’s always that risk.”

In the event of a river closure, the study estimates, about 1.4 million tons would originate from Winona and nearly 500,000 from La Crosse, which would result in more than 190 trucks per day traveling through Wisconsin on Interstate 90.

Nearly 5.8 million tons coming from the Twin Cities and Red Wing would result in nearly 600 more trucks per day on Hwy. 52 through southern Minnesota and into Iowa.

Researchers have previously assumed railroads would absorb most of the displaced shipments during a river shutdown, the study looked at scenarios in which trucking picks up 75 to 100 percent of the load. While it’s likely that more volume would move by rail, Perry said, states were interested in seeing the impact on roads.

One 15-barge tow carries the equivalent of about two trains or more than 1,000 trucks.

The study also focused only on agricultural products, though such products made up less than 30 percent of the total river volume in 2016, according to Corps data. 

"There’s stuff moving north as well," Perry noted.

Perry estimates the total costs of a season-long shutdown would be about $319.6 million, including the social costs of additional carbon dioxide emissions. The costs with failures in following years, he said, could begin to approach the $1 billion in deferred maintenance on the river.

“Everybody knows it’s an issue,” Perry said. “If we don’t take care of this one part of the system it’s going to negatively impact another part of the system.”

Photos: 400 miles of the Mississippi

Photos: 400 miles of the Mississippi