Wauwatosa neighbors resigned, if unhappy, with DOT's Mayfair Road plans

Peter Zuzga
Underground utility work is underway as the Department of Transportation prepares for rebuilding Mayfair Road at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue. Turning lanes and the intersection width have been points of contention from residents
Published on: 1/28/2013

Local residents met with Zoo Interchange engineers last week and once again expressed their dissatisfaction with various aspects of plans for Mayfair Road, but a sense of resignation has replaced the rough edges that once characterized the encounters.

Still, a new wrinkle in the design - a temporary commercial driveway onto Wisconsin Avenue - has generated fresh objections from many.

A fluctuating group of about 15 or more attended a two-hour open house at the police station's community room last Thursday to review what engineers called "final design" plans for Mayfair from about Watertown Plank Road south to the expressway, including the key intersections with Bluemound Road, Watertown Plank Road, and, between them, the smaller but perhaps more sensitive junction with Wisconsin Avenue.

"My concern is that this is going to become a main arterial," Chris Brenneman said, referring to Wisconsin Avenue. For two decades, she's lived half a block south, on 104th Street, and has begun to experience traffic pressing onto her side street, traveling at commuter speeds.

"The residents who live in this area, especially the long-term residents, have seen enormous, enormous changes in the past, and I'm not expecting the pastoral woods that we had years ago, but it's become overrun with office complexes."

Wisconsin Avenue is lined on its south side with Research Park, including the campuses of United Healthcare and GE Healthcare, followed, on the east, by the sprawling Milwaukee Regional Medical Center. While only the medical center has access roads from Wisconsin, it is a magnet.

Brenneman also interprets some of the increased traffic she sees as people choosing Wisconsin to avoid heavily traveled Bluemound Road.

The DOT's plan

The Department of Transportation's plan for the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue is to install two left turn lanes from southbound Mayfair onto Wisconsin, and a single left-turn lane from Wisconsin onto southbound Mayfair, which the DOT trimmed back from two turn lanes. A traffic light will be installed.

Residents along the south side of Wisconsin fought to retain on-street parking there. The result of all these considerations is a much wider approach on westbound Wisconsin, which will eat up significant portions of residents' front yards.

"These neighbors, they're sort of getting beat up," said Alderman Greg Walz-Chojnacki, whose 3rd District includes much of Wisconsin Avenue in Wauwatosa. "They're losing parts of their front yard to align with (the wider street)."

He said discussions with the DOT left the impression that the long-term change in traffic volume on Wisconsin would be trivial, "and yet they're doing these two turn lanes, which necessitated cutting into these people's lawns."

Residents respond

"None of us like really the two turn lanes that went from Highway 100 to Wisconsin," resident Barbara Galindo said. "That was very distressing, and I don't understand that still."

While the DOT has promised to revisit the issue of two turn lanes after the construction period, Galindo is not comforted.

"Once it's in, it's in," she said.

Some fear that an easier left turn onto Wisconsin will draw more traffic down the avenue.

"You're just inviting them to come down there," Frank Galindo said.

DOT engineers say it isn't so.

"It's gonna store more traffic," said Michael Burns, construction project manager for the region. "That same traffic would still be trying to get onto Wisconsin if there was a single lane."

A single left turn lane would have traffic backed up into the through-travel lane, blocking the flow, said Bill Mohr, supervisor of southeast freeways.

"It allows the state trunk Highway 100 traffic … to move better," he said.

It's a safety issue, he said.

New complications

The new wrinkle in the design is a temporary driveway on the north side of Wisconsin Avenue, in the approach to the intersection. It connects to the parking lot of United Healthcare. The driveway gives traffic from the Research Park an exit to the south, not strictly to the west, onto Mayfair, or to the north, onto Watertown Plank Road.

The driveway is intended as a safety measure, to allow easier access for emergency vehicles, especially from Fire Station No. 3, 10525 W. Watertown Plank Road, and to give access to construction vehicles, said the DOT engineers.

Resident Frank Galindo fears it will become a through way for regular traffic seeking to avoid Mayfair. He points to Wisconsin Avenue Park, tucked between United Healthcare and GE Healthcare. It has a baseball diamond that draws neighborhood kids, and crossing traffic is likely to create a hazard, he said.

"That's a bad idea," he said of the driveway. Traffic will come out of the driveway and head south down 104th and 106th streets, adding to an already growing problem.

An earlier attempt by United Healthcare to build a driveway at that very site was shot down by the Common Council, said Public Works Director Bill Porter. But DOT insisted it had the right to install it for safety and access reasons, he said, and so it will be built.

"Our number one goal is a safe construction site, DOT project chief Bob Gutierrez said.

A DOT spokeswoman said the department will step up enforcement of speeding and other violations in the neighborhood through a contract it has with the Wauwatosa Police Department.

Road closure concerns

A woman named Jan, who wouldn't give her last name, was concerned about the shutdown of two big intersections on Mayfair Road later this year.

The intersection of Mayfair Road and Bluemound will close completely from July 20 to 31, and the intersection of Mayfair and Watertown Plank Road will shut down from Aug. 1 to 10.

Jan, who lives near Walnut Road west of Mayfair Road, said she had few options to get to her job at Froedtert. She suggested that the city perhaps open Walnut Road through the city yard, leading to Mayfair, for that period.