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The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is moving forward with plans to rebuild South Avenue within the existing right-of-way, limiting the amount of real estate that will need to be taken but also precluding any accommodations for cyclists.

The DOT’s favored plan — to be formally introduced at a public meeting Thursday — calls for a four-lane highway with a raised median separating traffic and preventing left turns along most of the one-mile project corridor. Diagonal intersections at West Avenue, 16th Street and Ward Avenue would be replaced with roundabouts, which would require the removal of eight buildings.

South Avenue - Alt. 1

A four-lane divided roadway fits within existing right-of-way with roundabouts at West Avenue, 16th Street and Ward Avenue. There would be no bike accommodations and would require eight displacements. 

The project is slated for construction in 2022 and is expected to cost about $9 million.

Carrying state Hwy. 14, that stretch of road is one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares and a link to downtown and the Gundersen Health campus, yet it cuts diagonally through residential and commercial districts, separating about 24 square blocks along the Mississippi River from the rest of the city.

The primary goal of the project is improved safety, which the DOT says can best be addressed by reducing and protecting left turns. There were 200 crashes within that stretch of road between 2009 and 2013, for a rate above the state average. More than half of those were rear-end collisions.

“It would improve why we’re having accidents,” project development manager Jim Rohe said. “It’s caused by left turners largely. This will provide protection, because we’re eliminating left turns.”

Rohe said the chosen alternative also has the least impact on private property, received the most positive public comments and was recommended by a consulting firm conducting a parallel study for the city of La Crosse. It was also the least expensive alternative.

“It seems like that was the one that rose to the top through that process,” Rohe said.

La Crosse city council President Martin Gaul, who serves on a committee overseeing the city’s study, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision.

“They’ve been aiming at that since we started,” he said.

City leaders and state officials clashed over preliminary designs, which called for widening the road to include a center turn lane, taking out dozens of homes and businesses. The DOT later revised its proposed plans, though differences remained.

Of the four alternative designs presented, only one fit within the existing right-of-way. The three that included bike accommodations — something the city has pushed for — featured a much wider roadway and would have required up to 31 displacements — nearly four times as much private real estate — and cost significantly more.

Unhappy with the initial DOT designs, the city hired Toole Design Group to develop alternative plans for the corridor and surrounding neighborhoods.

Despite concerns about pedestrian safety, lack of bicycle facilities and limited vehicle access, project manager Kevin Luecke said Toole recommends the narrow option, primarily because it has the lowest impact on the neighborhood and tax base.

Toole will continue studying ways to improve bike and pedestrian access along the corridor as well as land use and how to encourage redevelopment of parcels where buildings are removed to make way for the road.

Rohe said the DOT does not support the city’s recommendation to include a fourth roundabout at 14th Street, noting it would require 11 additional displacement and add about $2 million to the total cost. He said proposed traffic calming devices — such as speed tables — would not be considered.

The DOT will now prepare more detailed designs in preparation for an environmental review that is scheduled to be completed next summer.

Gaul said he wishes the DOT had incorporated more of the city’s suggestions.

“I think there’s a long way to go yet,” Gaul said. “There’s some disappointment all around, but the process isn’t over.”

The primary goal of the project is improved safety, which the DOT says can best be addressed by reducing and protecting left turns. There were 200 crashes within that stretch of road between 2009 and 2013, for a rate above the state average. More than half of those were rear-end collisions.


Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things. Call him at 608-791-8217.

(29) comments


The 2 between Onalaska and Holmen seem pretty pointless. Going from 50 MPH to20 might cause more accidents. Stop lights would be more reasonable and less expensive.


Still think roundabouts are the answer for South Ave? Here, 3 roundabouts were ranked in the 10 worst intersections in this community. 2 roundabouts are being reconstructed back into traffic signals-- very costly projects in what I'm sure we're costly right-of-way takes to install roundabouts to begin with. The very context in which they are installed matters! Not all consultants are good at screening for their installs. I cringe to see them proposed for this segment of S Ave.


DOT may be rolling the dice here with roundabouts at intersections where balanced traffic is nonexistent on the approach legs (which is the case at least some intersections on this segment of S Ave), and especially where there's a pronounced spikes in inbound vs outbound flows during commute times (also the case for areas of S Ave).

So, no one is talking about what happens when these roundabouts do approach failure within the design life during commute hours, which generally amounts to utter disaster for traffic coming out of the neighborhoods. The more you tweak and retweak the geometry of a roundabout in attempt to "fix" them, the less efficient they can become overall (in their original cost comparison with the alternative: traffic signals). At least with traffic signals, you are better able to control priority to ease these situations, and at hundreds of thousand of dollars less the cost. If I were still in grad school, this would be the fist thing I would write a white paper on to present at a national traffic conference.


Beautiful. Well said!

let it go

I agree with some round-a-bouts being good, but in the last few years the DOT and Lacrosse have gone round-a-bout crazy. They are not always more efficient and how can taking away taxable land for nontaxable be an advantage? Isn't it bad enough they sold Buzz's bike shop to a developer for $10. Help the person who is in need not the developers.


Round a jokes are not a safer alternative for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. One reason is the DOT's brain storm to build hills in the center which restricts vision, no developer is allowed to build a building right to the corner anymore, which restricts vision, but the DOT does this. To make a round a joke work you need a massive amount of property so there is the same number of lanes going through the round about as there is feeding it. Seeing how this is a state highway, the round about needs to large enough to handle semi traffic which is 2 or 3 trailers long, maintenance vehicles to plow snow, fire department ladder trucks, and the trucks carrying oversized loads. Where does this land come from? The taxpayers property taxes will go up to cover all the lost land used.


the center is raised for a good reason, so people will slow down through the round a bout if they can't see straight across. Otherwise if they could see that no one is entering the round about straight ahead, many would hit the gas pedal to speed up, thereby making it less safe. round abouts have been proven over and over to save lives and money, and they are built to handle the big rigs too.


Kingman they don't measure driver delays appropriately when compared to traffic signals and as calculated in fuel consumption formulas. The methods always slightly favor roundabouts in the manner of which they are reported. It's the running joke of the office for the very few who actually get it. A little driver education on driving traffic signal system could turn the cost comparison between the two on its head!!!


I see your point to a degree. I doubt, but would not be surprised, if they might try to slightly mound at least 2 of these roundabouts or use similar center island treatments.

Right, mounding is intended to (unfairly, in my opinion) create a level of uncertainty for drivers on a least 'some' of the approaches by design. Another way to think of this is that the roundabout might not be the ideal solution for the location chosen.

Seems often that mounding offers more a cover-up for the agency that chose to installed them than protection for the pedestrian stopped in the center island waiting to cross the exiting leg when the driver on the opposite approach won't easily identify them. Identifying pedestrians on 2 exit lanes is problematic enough for drivers even without the mound or obstructed views in the center island.


I agree with low cost and least buildings removed. Bicyclists ride "sidewalks" to and from Gundersen along South Ave & Mormon Coulee now, the they are dangerous because the pavement is in such awful shape. If this work includes improving the "sidewalks" then bikes can continue riding on them. They are called "sidewalks" but with so few people walking them (except across from Gundersen), they could just as easily be called bike/ped lanes or multi use paths. If a few motion activated flashing lights (detecting motion on "sidewalks" just before intersections) would be installed, drivers would get flashing lights at right turns if walkers or bikers are present. BUT why do we need a barrier down the middle? More stuff to pay for and maintain, run into, and box us in to only one way to use the road. Put flexible posts or barriers that can be removed instead.


I detest roundabouts,the one that cost so much on cass was rediculous and costly,they are confuseing. With the population getting older they will create more accidents. They never said,what buildings they will be ripping down for this new project??


Based on your spelling, I can see why roundabouts would be tough for you. They're really not that hard to figure out.


They are not confusing in the least. Maybe if they're so hard for you to navigate, you shouldn't be driving anymore.


Roundabouts aren't a bad thing for 'some' locations. I do feel they-- and the safety statistics pertaining to them-- are often being falsely aggrandized and oversold (which USDOT has admitted to in the past in its haste) as a result of human bias among theit sellers.

New roundabouts have a tendency to increase the road's traffic demand because of increased supply (intersection capacity), either as a direct result of driver reroute or latency demand (which btw has an adverse effect on conflicts especially related to large trucks). As a result, this road segment could meet and sustain its 20-year traffic forecast within as little as 2 or 3 years, which they so often do as parallel routes get more constrained. What then?

At the times when these roundabouts fail-- some approaches will likely fail badly at times toward the end of their useful life or earlier (see above)-- residents may look back wondering what the point of roundabouts were on this road segment to begin with and may begin to rethink strategy, compromise on their own street networks, and redesign.

With this proposed design: potential for full pedestrian traffic signals in 2 to 15 years at the isolated crossings; potential for signal metering the "gateway entrances" or roundabout approaches in 15 to 20.


I'm so glad the DOT is suggesting this method. It will cause the least disruption and will be the safest for everyone. Seeing as I'm not a small child, the roundabouts will be a great addition and make it much easier to get around, especially when coming to the end of 16th st or East Ave S by the Hmong Cultural Center. Honestly, they're so easy and make so much sense. Why are people here so afraid of them? They're way safer and you rarely have to come to a complete stop.


Roundabouts take out people's property. This is a tightly configured city. So, you think it's okay to kick out people to create a roundabout?


I'm not a fan of it, no, but sometimes eminent domain is a necessary evil for the betterment of the city as a whole. I'm not to broken up about Boyer's getting booted though, that place has been an eyesore on the end of West Ave for a long time. I can only hope that used furniture place next door goes with it.




Cass Street is so much better and easier to navigate. Remember how much traffic used to back up at the light.


You being presumptuous to ignore the potential for cost of installing future pedestrian amenities upstream of Cass's roundabout which might very well include full blown pedestrian traffic signals-- all simply because of the roundabout's presence at this particular location. What is gained from a roundabout then? It just shifts the problems related to traffic signals (including false pedestrian actuations) elsewhere. Guessing 2 to 5 years tops pedestrians attempting to cross Cass upstream of this roundabout will be demanding more costly improvements and retrofits.


You just put cross walks across the exits and entrances, and then yield to pedestrians like normal. That only costs the paint to make them.


It's not remotely that simple Lacrosseguy. I've dealt with this situation before and many others like it and can see the writing on the wall. Shortfalls in design are what you get when you hire those unfamiliar pedestrian patterns on this stretch of Cass? Ask me again in 1 or 2 or 10 years. Hope I'm wrong. Doubt that I am.


Yes, but roundabouts are scary and we don't like change! Remember when America used to be great with stop signs at every corner? We should make it that way again. In fact, that'd be a great slogan...


The DOT has $hit for brains and will not listen to the public affected, so the cheaper way to build a road is more ROUND A JOKES. Anyone with a 5th grade education could design a road better than the idiots in Madison. First, to make the roads safer and more driveable is to ENFORCE the traffic laws. We all know what cities and towns that do enforcement around La Crosse, and they have significantly less problems than here.


The only people with that brain type are the ones who can't figure out how to drive through a roundabout.


No bikes, because there's no room for them currently... You can't ride on a narrow road like that with cars going 45 mph and not expect get run over. Never mind avoiding broken pavement, expansion joints and road debris at the same time.

Rick Czeczok

Then ride on the sidewalk no one uses.


I've made a point of noting, and the sidewalks are usually empty. What keeps bikers off of them? Why have lanes that put them dangerously into traffic when there are sidewalks in our city?


Oh goodie goodie more frigging roundabouts!!! Now another road to avoid at all cost. Roundabouts are no good people......and when was the last time you saw anyone riding a bike on South Ave. It's been years since I have seen any......

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