August 4, 2008

Prairie Du Chien Roundabouts Require Rethinking

The Prairie du Chien (Wis.) City Council finds itself in a bit of quandary over a project that would spend $8.75 million to place roundabouts at three of the city's intersections.

A handful of council members support going forward with the project. A vocal group of community members hates the idea. The mayor wants to halt the roundabouts measure. Some are calling for a referendum on the issue. Some want the supporting council members recalled. And no matter what happens, it is going to cost the people of Prairie du Chien a pile of money.

Council members are reluctant to kill the project because that would break the city's contract with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. If that happens, the city would have to reimburse the state for design fees and possible breach of contract charges. That could cost Prairie du Chien $500,000 - just to put the brakes on the project.

It's understandable that council members hate to see that kind of money go to waste. But the council needs to step back and look at the whole picture. Though the cost to the community is significant, that's no reason to move forward with a project that doesn't make sense. And whether this project is sensible is questionable, at best.

The Department of Transportation stressed safety as a concern in presenting the idea to Prairie du Chien. Proponents say adding roundabouts would save time, fuel and, ultimately, lives. That might be overstating it a bit. This isn't Dead Man's Curve we're talking about. In fact, there hasn't been a fatal accident at any of the three intersections in 42 years. Traffic experts agree that roundabouts can be a good way to move vehicles through a crowded area. But in a town the size of Prairie du Chien, surely there are ways to ensure safety without going to this drastic measure.

The cost to the town if the roundabouts are added would be more significant than the potential cost of DOT fees. The city would be committed for at least $666,550 of the cost of the project. The rest would come from state and federal funds - still taxpayer money. In addition to the money, 10 businesses and 12 homes would be destroyed to make room for the roundabouts. Taking out citizens'homes is something no community should ever consider lightly. Losing 10 businesses could be devastating to the Marquette Road area.

Roundabouts are going to end up costing the citizens of Prairie du Chien - whether they are ever installed. Council members should reconsider plowing forward with a project that so many residents oppose and would uproot so many people and businesses.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board: Jim Normandin (publisher), Brian Cooper, Ken Brown, Steve Fisher, Monty Gilles and Amy Gilligan.

Originally published by Telegraph Herald.

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