South 27th Street corridor takes shape

Officials from Oak Creek and Franklin hope the South 27th Street corridor that separates their cities can be redeveloped into an attractive destination for business growth.

The six-mile corridor of 27th Street, also known as Highway 241, runs from College Avenue (County ZZ) on the north to South County Line Road.

Plans to widen and update the corridor have been in the works since 2004 because it has a higher rate of crashes than the state average and congestion is becoming a problem, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The construction start date was originally set for 2013, but no action will be taken on the project until 2015, said Dennis Shook, regional communications manager for WisDOT.

“This is a process, and you can’t just rush into it,” he said. “It wasn’t really a delay; it was more of gathering input.”

City and state leaders are taking a long future view of the corridor, its businesses and its traffic volume. The DOT has planned its construction to accommodate 2035 traffic volumes, as well as increased pedestrian and bicycle use.

As the cities around it expand, traffic on South 27th Street is expected to increase significantly, Shook said.

“We’re trying to preserve that area because we know there’s going be growth there,” Shook said. “We want six lanes throughout the corridor, and then we want the improved intersections so that we can have better traffic flow through intersections.”

As it stands, the plan calls for expanding intersections along the corridor to allow for wider turning queues, more right and left turn lanes and U-turns. Medians will be installed to control traffic flow by eliminating some turning options. Bike and pedestrian lanes also will be included, traffic lights will be updated and streetscaping will give the corridor a cohesive feel, Shook said.

There is no set cost for the project yet, since it is still in the study and planning phase.

Once construction is completed, Oak Creek hopes it can attract new businesses to the corridor, said Doug Seymour, director of community development.

“While we continue to market that area of the city and the 27th Street corridor in concert with our partners in the City of Franklin, at this time we’re trying to set the stage,” he said. “It’s really our goal to make that a very attractive place to do business,” he said. “We’re very enthusiastic about the prospects for long-term development of that corridor.”

With business development come jobs and additional infrastructure that will benefit Oak Creek residents, Seymour said.

South 27th Street also is the main alternate route for southbound traffic from I-94. Construction is currently underway on I-94 near the corridor and is expected to continue through 2014, so it will not conflict with the 27th Street project’s 2015 start date.

“(South) 27th Street or 241 always has been viewed as an emergency or alternate access route in case there were some issue with the freeway,” Seymour said.

The DOT has held three public meetings about the 27th Street project so residents can give feedback.

Since there will be limited cuts in the median, some business owners have voiced concern about customer access, said Brian Sajdak, assistant city attorney for Franklin and the city’s representative on the 27th Street project.

“A number of the median cuts will be closed, and the ones that remain will prohibit all movements other than a left hand turn into a facility,” Sajdak said. “The big concern was the access management. It’s a big change from what’s there now. Folks are concerned about what that means for them.”

Part of the construction phase will involve joining some parking lots in cross cooperation to allow access to businesses from the closest median cut, he said.

The plan also initially included roundabouts at each intersection, to which there was significant opposition because residents are not used to them and because it could be difficult for large trucks to navigate them.

“They didn’t like the roundabouts, so we listened to them on that,” Shook said.

Instead, the intersections will be widened to allow for more traffic flow.

The last public meeting was held in August, and now the department has moved on to firm planning.

An engineering plan will be drawn up by this fall, at which time the DOT will establish the project’s right-of-way and work with property owners to reach easement agreements, where the state uses a part of their land for the road, Shook said.

Any property acquisition will happen in 2012, he said. Since property owners have a right to appeal these right-of-way decisions, that step could take a year or more.

Finally, when the appropriate studies and approvals have been completed, construction will begin.

Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company Inc. and Glendale-based Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare each have campuses on the corridor.

Northwestern Mutual’s 84-acre Franklin campus was opened in April 2004 and has about 2,400 employees. The company also owns a significant portion of land in Oak Creek – about 120 acres – along 27th Street, said Kevin Kennedy, director of real estate investments.

“That land is primarily undeveloped,” said Northwestern Mutual spokesman Mark Lucius. “We don’t have any immediate timetable for developing it. We have no plans to put more Northwestern Mutual buildings on that land or no plans to expand our corporate presence (on 27th Street).”

Lucius said the company has been invited to give input along with other business owners on South 27th Street, but has not voiced any strong opinions on the redevelopment project. Northwestern has observed the plan’s progress.

“I think we had the same input that all private property landowners have in the 27th Street corridor,” he said. “Everybody is interested in a development that is both stable and high quality for the future.”


Editor’s note:
Dennis Shook, one of the key sources of information quoted in this report, passed away a few days after this story was written. BizTimes offers its condolences to his family.

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