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Speed study embraced for Highway 33 intersection east of Portage

February 13, 2019

The intersection of East Albert Street and Highway 33 in Portage never was supposed to accommodate the high amounts of traffic that funnel through it every day.

Local officials hope to curb the severity of accidents there with a state-sponsored study of the intersection.

Columbia County traffic safety commission member Chuck Miller said the crossroads has been a common topic of discussion in the 10 years he’s been on the commission.

“It’s been there as long as I’ve been here,” Miller said at Friday’s commission meeting. “It’s been here a real long, long time.”

Traffic safety engineer Ryan Mayer said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will conduct a speed study and traffic analysis to determine traffic patterns, possible solutions and alternate design ideas.

Sgt. Todd Horn with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is among multiple law enforcement officials who lauded the fresh study.

Horn said some drivers travel at 55 mph on Highway 33, while drivers heading south on East Albert Street have to travel along a curve and steady incline to approach Highway 33. This makes for a risky combination of crash factors.

Portage police patrol Lt. Richard Hoege also likes the idea of conducting a speed study.

“I think a speed study is a great first step,” Hoege said.

He said it’s been nine years since a speed study was last conducted at the intersection, and various changes such as population growth might have some effect on how busy the roads have become.

Although having updated data is useful, drivers should remain cautious and keep speed in mind as they travel the roads, Hoege said. Particularly during the winter, drivers should keep their windows, headlights and taillights clean to see other vehicles approaching and to alert other drivers to their actions.

The intersection was designed in the 1940s or early 1950s. Since then, the city has grown to the north and residents often use the road as a shortcut to travel between downtown Portage, the schools and the businesses off New Pinery Road.

“It was never really designed to handle the amount of traffic that it now handles,” Miller said. “It’s just a super busy intersection.”

While a simple fix has been elusive for years, Miller hopes reducing the speed of cars traveling through could at least make the intersection a little safer.

Pardeeville public works director Erin Salmon said a construction project originally planned for 2015 was pushed back to 2025 or even 2030 to align with other construction plans.

At Friday’s meeting, Miller motioned to drop the speed limit from 45 to 35 mph along Highway 33 to help reduce the severity of car accidents at the intersection in the future.

“My idea is that we can live with it, but let’s slow that traffic down so when accidents happen, they’re not as bad,” Miller said.

According to a Wisconsin Department of Transportation document, there have been 13 collisions there since 2014.

One of those collisions involved a bicyclist who was traveling west along the narrow road shoulder.

Miller said he cringes every time he sees someone walking or bicycling on the shoulder of the road because it’s too narrow and risky for pedestrians who may be clipped by passing vehicles.

About half of the documented collisions at the intersection happened during wet or wintry conditions.

Miller said he spoke with the police department and learned six accidents occurred there in 2018 alone. Some of those were one-vehicle crashes or minor.

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