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US 51 Corridor Study (Stoughton-McFarland) - Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Who is conducting this study?

WisDOT Southwest Region and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are initiating the study. WisDOT has hired the consulting firm Strand Associates to assist them with their efforts.

What is the scope of this study?

The study includes completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and will identify safety improvements as well as how travel needs along the corridor can be met. The EIS will evaluate potential alternatives, assess their potential impacts, incorporate public and agency comments, and document the preferred alternative.

Why is this study being done?

An approved EIS is necessary to evaluate and identify the major improvements that will be necessary for US 51 to provide a safe and efficient multi-modal facility for the traveling public. In 2004, WisDOT completed a Needs Assessment that showed there are existing geometric deficiencies in the US 51 corridor (such as poor visibility at curves and intersections, obstacles that are too close to the roadway, and lack of turning lanes).

Problems with safety and congestion have been voiced by citizens throughout the study. A frequent concern heard is: left turns onto and off of the highway are difficult and dangerous. There is also limited ability to pass slower-moving vehicles. Crash rates along the corridor and injury crash rates are above the statewide average for similar types of roadways. Projected traffic volumes for the existing 2-lane US 51 corridor between Stoughton and McFarland are approaching or above the threshold where a 4-lane facility would be considered (15,000 vehicles per day). Projected traffic volumes will produce unacceptable congestion at peak travel times at many locations. The lack of bike and pedestrian facilities is also noted. These problems will worsen as additional jobs and residences develop in the area.

What are the alternatives under consideration?

  • No Build
    No improvements would be provided other than routine maintenance and the resurfacing projects already programmed. The No Build Alternative serves as a baseline for comparison to the Build Alternatives A and B.
  • Alternative A
    Alternative A is the Low Build alternative, it does not add capacity (no new through travel lanes). Efforts are focused on improving safety at intersections along US 51. East of Stoughton, the 2-lane US 51 would be reconstructed and include an eastbound passing lane.
  • Alternative B
    Alternative B is the expansion alternative and has several component improvements:
    • 4-lane expansion on US 51 from Stoughton (County B East) to McFarland including a roundabout at County B East, an interchange at County B/AB, and a roundabout at Exchange St. in McFarland.
    • Improve safety at various intersections in Stoughton.
    • Provide the Stoughton Bypass, a 4-lane roadway around Stoughton: on US 51 from WIS 138 to County B East; on County B from US 51 to County N; and on one of three options east of County N to connect back to US 51 east of Stoughton. Those three options are:
      • Spring Road East Alignment
      • Overland Alignment
      • Skaalen and Pleasant Hill Roads

When will one of these alternatives be selected?

The schedule calls for completing the draft EIS (DEIS) in the spring of 2015.

When will the public have opportunities to comment?

A Public Involvement Meeting anticipated for the winter of 2014/2015 will be an opportunity to comment and provide input on the alternatives and the associated impacts. The alternatives will then be finalized and included in the Draft EIS which will be published and available for public comment.

A Public Hearing will be conducted after the DEIS is published which will allow the public to formally comment on the document. In addition, comments may be submitted to the Project Manager at any time throughout the life of the study.

What about environmental impacts?

Environmental impacts will be an important part of the comparison of alternatives. Evaluation of the potential impacts to wetland, farmland, archaeological and historic resources, and other resources is ongoing and will be detailed in the Draft EIS. Environmental impacts will affect the selection of a preferred alternative.

Who has to approve the preferred alternative that is selected for the Final EIS?

WisDOT and the Federal Highway Administration approve the preferred alternative and seek the concurrence of the federal resource agencies, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency. These approvals are sufficient for approval of the final EIS. Before a project is built in the Madison area using federal funds, the Transportation Planning Board must approve the project.

How is funding authorized?

The environmental study process will be completed when the FEIS is signed and a Record of Decision (ROD) is issued by FHWA. However, final design and construction cannot occur until funding of the preferred alternative is requested of and enumerated by the Transportation Projects Commission (TPC). The TPC consists of the Governor, three citizen members appointed by the Governor, five senators, five representatives, and the WisDOT Secretary (non-voting member).

The TPC recommends projects that most warrant funding to the Legislature and the Governor. Only then would WisDOT proceed with final plans, real estate acquisition, and construction. Short-term spot improvements identified throughout the process may be implemented as safety and operational needs arise.

Why is WisDOT doing this planning work when funds have not been allocated?

The goal is to have a plan so that as lands develop or redevelop in the corridor, the possible changes to the roadway can be taken into consideration. Without a long-term plan, the best solution may become too expensive to accomplish if it would require removing new buildings and businesses.

What is the role of transit in handling travel needs in this corridor?

The study includes extensive computer modeling to determine how the existing roadway and proposed alternatives will handle the demand for travel in the corridor in the future. The future conditions regional traffic model assumes the "Locally Preferred Alternative" selected by the Transport 2020 study is constructed and operational. This alternative assumes a commuter rail system in the Madison area, with express bus service to outlying communities such as Stoughton. Even with a high level of transit service in the region, the problems identified in the Needs Assessment for this corridor will remain.

How will the alternatives handle the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians?

Alternative A will improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities at improved intersections and provide a paved shoulder on US 51 east of Stoughton. Alternative B will provide bicycle facilities along and across the corridor, and pedestrian facilities in urban reconstruction areas. Connections to existing and proposed bicycle and pedestrian facilities will be evaluated in coordination with Dane County Parks, the City of Stoughton, the Village of McFarland, and other interested parties.

Will the project continue if traffic volumes decrease in the future? Has the economic downturn been accounted for?

There are existing geometric deficiencies and problems with safety, congestion, and bike and pedestrian connectivity in the US 51 corridor. These problems will worsen if traffic volumes increase. For this study, a conservative annual population growth rate of 1.2% was used for traffic projections and to simulate future facility operations. This rate should be appropriate to capture the traffic volumes currently being experienced during this economic slow down. Funds have not been committed for a project and improvements could be delayed, depending on need, or may be staged to address safety concerns and traffic congestion, as warranted.

Has lowering the speed limit been considered?

A major consideration when setting speed limits is the prevailing or majority speed of drivers. The nationally accepted principle is that the majority of drivers are cautious, prudent and drive at speeds that are reasonable and proper for that roadway, regardless of the speed limit. If speeds are arbitrarily lowered, the majority of drivers will continue to drive the speed that is reasonable to them. Studies have shown that vehicle speeds reduce by one fourth of the speed reduction. So for example, reducing the speed limit from 55 mph to 50 mph will reduce the average vehicle speed by only 1 mph. Further, posting speeds lower or higher than the majority speed of drivers has often resulted in an increase in traffic crashes due to tailgating, improper passing, reckless driving and excessive weaving. Speed limits are set within 5 mph of the observed 85th percentile or within 2 mph of the observed average speed.

For more information, who should I contact?

Jeff Berens, WisDOT Project Manager
2101 Wright St.
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 245-2656

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WisDOT Southwest Region Office-Madison, swr.dtsd@dot.wi.gov
Last modified: August 12, 2014

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