It could be the perfect storm of street projects in Ladysmith next year as city leaders plan local street improvements and state road designers eye a major highway upgrade.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is seeking public input on the updated project listing tables in the Wisconsin Rail Plan 2030. The plan includes long distance and commuter passenger rail projects and studies, freight rail projects and studies, and rail-highway crossings projects. In the plan are two Ladysmith rail projects as part of the DOT’s  major resurfacing in 2021 of U.S. 8, also known as Lake Avenue, in the city.

The DOT is currently designing upgrades to about 12 blocks of Lake Avenue between Wis. 27 and River Avenue. Included with this construction are two associated projects involving the railroad crossing immediately west of W. Fifth Street N where controversial raised concrete medians will be installed along with new gates and sidewalks.

The current cost estimate for the resurfacing work which includes the new raised islands at the railroad crossing and the curb ramps is between $750,000 and $1 million.

“That is in addition to the cost of the two railroad projects,” DOT Project Manager Phil Keppers said.

The state plans on U.S. 8 calls for milling off 2 inches of the current concrete surface and replacing it with 2.25 inches of asphalt.

Last year, the state painted median lane markings on Lake Avenue at W. Fifth Street N to show where raised medians would be installed. The markings are meant to stop southbound Fifth Street drivers from turning east onto the highway and eastbound highway drivers from turning left to go north on W. Fifth Street. Drivers may be ticketed for driving over these yellow cross-hatched markings,

One of these projects (1580-31-52) is for the replacement of the railroad signals and gates, and the other (1580-31-53) is for the extension of the crossing surface to accommodate sidewalk behind the gates, according to Keppers. The work under these two projects will be done by Canadian National but WisDOT pays CN to do the work, he said.

“The raised medians are being done under project 1580-31-71 which is the project that will also include the overlay of U.S. 8,” Keppers said.

This project is planned to be bid on April 13, 2021.

“All three projects are planned to be built in the summer of 2021,” Keppers said. “The 2020 dates for the two railroad projects in the report are likely related to [acquiring funding] for these two projects.”

The timeframe for when the construction will take place has yet to be determined, according to Keppers.

“We won’t know exact dates until the contract is bid and we know who the contractor is.  We are working on the final design and part of that is determining the contract time that will be allowed. We haven’t completed that yet but at this point I would estimate about two months,” Keppers said.

The Wisconsin Rail Plan 2030 focuses on the needs of the state’s rail system and meets all relevant federal and state requirements. It identifies rail infrastructure issues that reflect the views of Wisconsin citizens, businesses, and government officials. The plan includes a number of key elements, including a statewide vision for freight, intercity passenger and commuter rail; and an inventory of Wisconsin’s rail system, rail service, and rail facilities. Wisconsin Rail Plan 2030 informs the development and implementation of rail policy and serves as a guide for decision-makers through 2030.

The railroad operating signal installation will improve public safety, improve reliability and decrease maintenance and signal outages at a $202,000 estimated total cost.

The surface widening for sidewalk will improve public safety, improve signal reliability and decrease maintenance and signal outages at a $50,500 estimated total cost. They will be funded through a combination of federal and state funds.

The city continues to plan for additional street reconstruction in 2021 including sections of five streets. They are First Street, E. Second Street, W. Third Street and W. Fourth Street.

Financial assistance for the city’s projects is being sought from several programs including Community Development Block Grant for two-thirds of non-assessable costs such as street reconstruction and storm sewer, DNR Clean Water Fund for sanitary sewer main replacement, DNR Safe Drinking Water Loan Program  for water main replacement. Tax Incremental District for one-third of non-assessable cost of street reconstruction, stormsewer and 25 percent of sidewalk. Special assessments would, presumably, be used to pay back assessable portion of CWF and SDWLP loans, along with 75 percent of sidewalk and 100 percent of curb and gutter. If the city receives preliminary approval of CWF and SDWLP early in 2020, complete applications will need to be filed by next June 30 for SDWLP, and by next Sept. 30 for CWF. While “principal forgiveness” is possible with CWF both programs are beneficial regardless, with a current interest rate of 0.99 percent.

These largely downtown streets were selected to be done now because Tax Incremental District funding is currently available to assist with the cost. It had been thought that would no longer be available after 2021, but in fact, it is available until 2025. While it is unlikely that TID 8 will have sufficient cash to cover these costs, that will depend in part on how successful the city is in getting Community Development Block Grant, Clean Water Fund and Safe Drinking Water Loan Program money. Even if the TID will cover some costs, some money will likely need to be borrowed up front and then repaid from annual TID receipts over up to one decade.

While preliminary cost estimates have been prepared, actual costs will be based on public bids received. Assessments will be calculated based on actual bid costs. Grant and loan applications are already being worked on, which was part of the impetus for getting preliminary costs estimates together. There seemed to be consensus that a public information meeting can be deferred until, perhaps, February, when the city may know whether the requested Clean Water Fund and Safe Drinking Water Loan Program money will be approved.

Because the announcement of CDBG awards isn’t anticipated until August, construction won’t realistically be done until 2021.

The comment deadline for the Wisconsin Rail Plan 2030 is Wednesday, Feb. 26. Comments may be submitted by email (bop.dtim@dot.wi.gov); phone (608-267-0294), TTY: 711 relay service, or hard copy to: WisDOT Bureau of Planning and Economic Development, 4822 Madison Yards Way, 6th Floor South, P.O. Box 7913, Madison, WI 53705.

The entire plan can be found on the WisDOT Rail Plan 2030 webpage: https://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/projects/multimodal/railplan/default.aspx. Hard copies of the website materials may be requested using the contact information above.

Planned projects

This is the list of planned street work in Ladysmith to be done next year. A Lake Avenue resurfacing is being done at the state level with five separate projects being done by the city.

—  Lake Avenue (state project) — Wis. 27 to River Avenue, resurface including rail crossing improvements;

— Lake Avenue (city project) — E. Third to E. Fifth streets;

— First Street (city project) — Miner to Fritz avenues;

— E. Second Street S (city project) — Miner Avenue to railroad tracks;

— W. Third Street (city project) — Lake to Worden avenues; and

— W. Fourth Street (city project) — Fritz to Corbett avenues.

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