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With new freeway interchanges come the promise of additional real estate development in the area surrounding them, thanks to increased traffic and improved site accessibility.
Two communities in Ozaukee County expect nothing different out of the future I-43 interchange at Highland Road.
The new interchange is to be built as part of the $550 million expansion of I-43, which will, among other things, add lanes to the freeway between Silver Spring Drive in Glendale to State Highway 60 in Grafton.
As part of that work, some existing interchanges are getting a facelift, including the Brown Deer Road interchange, which will be transformed into a diverging diamond, and the County Line Road/Port Washington Road interchange, which will be upgraded into a full-service interchange.
But the interchange at Highland Road will be the only new one built as part of the expansion project, said Dan Sellers, a Wisconsin Department of Transportation spokesman.
The Highland Road interchange work will be part of the 2022 bid package, with a bid letting date of late 2021, Sellers said. The work is slated to start in early 2022 and finish by mid-2023.
Even though it will be nearly three years before the interchange is open, impacted communities are already thinking about its potential benefits and making preparations.
The planned interchange coincides with efforts by the city of Mequon to rezone a large swath of land northwest of Highland Road and the freeway, with the intent to encourage more residential development and specific commercial uses.
Kim Tollefson, Mequon director of community development, said planning work for this spot started back in 2013 and is not directly related to the new interchange. Even so, the interchange only adds to the city’s opportunity to shape the remaining vacant land there according to its vision.
The Mequon Planning Commission’s policy subcommittee is mapping out the best uses for 750 acres that’s bounded by I-43 to the east, Highland Road to the south, Oriole Lane and Ulao Creek to the west, and Pioneer Road to the north. Tollefson said only about 300 acres is developable due to wetlands and floodways.
“We wanted to be proactive in modifying that zoning and achieving a more desired land use,” Tollefson said.
She said much of the land is now zoned for rural residential use, which requires lot sizes of at least 5 acres. The limited miscellaneous commercial uses currently allowed also do not match the “highest and best use” for the area, Tollefson said.
The city is looking to encourage single-family residential, on lot sizes of 0.75 to 1 acre, on the west side of Port Washington Road. It also would like to see senior housing developed on the east side, particularly near the existing Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital Ozaukee. It also desires lower-density commercial uses, such as specialty trades or building contracting services with showrooms and offices, to the north as Port Washington Road approaches Pioneer Road.
Specifically, the city would want conservation-style residential subdivisions that both preserve environmental features and open space, and leverage Ulao Creek as a neighborhood amenity, Tollefson said.
The goal for new commercial uses right at Highland Road would be types that serve area residential and commuter traffic, Tollefson said. Potential uses could include medical or veterinary clinics, public administration offices, small-scale public-private schools or clubs such as dance studios, neighborhood convenience shops such as florists, daycares, specialty food stores and coffee shops, and small-scale sports and fitness centers. This would be opposed to commercial projects catering to freeway travelers, such as gas stations and fast food restaurants.
“One of our goals is to not have that (Highland Road) intersection look and feel like other entryways to the highway,” she said.
The policy subcommittee could by the first quarter of 2021 send rezoning recommendations to the Plan Commission and Common Council for approval, Tollefson said.
Officials with the village of Thiensville also see the potential benefits the interchange will have on their community.
This summer, village president Van Mobley detailed the pathway that freeway traffic could take into the village’s Main Street commercial corridor, which is located roughly four miles away. He said drivers would have to head west down Highland Road, then turn south onto Main Street/North Cedarburg Road.
Although there’s a bit of distance to Thiensville from the interchange, much of the land in between can’t or won’t be developed, Mobley said. This is because it already contains existing residential subdivisions, a golf course, the Milwaukee Area Technical College Mequon campus, extensive park land and protected wetlands.
The thought is that those looking for a concentration of restaurants, shops and other commercial offerings will want to head to Thiensville, he said. It so happens that the village is looking to redevelop the area around the intersection of Main Street and Freistadt Road with the goal of encouraging more mixed-use and multi-family development.
Sellers said the new interchange was birthed during a corridor study and environmental investigation of the I-43 project area. At that time, the option of a Highland Road interchange was brought forward for public discussion.
“We received public support for that idea, and it was then included as one of the components in our final selected alternative,” he said. “The city of Mequon recognizes the value of it, and has been an involved partner in the planning and delivery of the interchange.”