Accommodating fire station could adversely impact traffic, they fear
By Jennifer Eisenbart
If there’s one thing the members of the City of Burlington Plan Commission can agree on right now, it’s that they disagree on what to do with Washington Street when the new parking lot for the city Fire Department goes in.
While the commissioners approved last month a rezone of the property that the city bought – property purchased just to demolish an older home and make way for an expanded parking lot for the fire department – it asked city staff for options for Washington Street that did not involve fully closing the street to through traffic.
At the time, many of the commissioners said that eliminating the right “veer off” option for traffic traveling northbound on Milwaukee Avenue could create major traffic issues.
The city came back with three options for Tuesday night’s meeting. The first option was the original one – closing off all through traffic from the south, and expanding the department’s “apron” at the front of the station all the way to Milwaukee Avenue.
The second option would eliminate the “veer-off” turn, but keep access to Milwaukee Avenue from Washington next to the Vista gas station. The third option was a hybrid of the two, creating a one-way traffic option for cars coming from Washington Street to exit onto Milwaukee Avenue – but not allowing Milwaukee Avenue traffic to exit onto Washington.
All three plans met with enough resistance at Tuesday night’s meeting to cause the Plan Commission to table the issue again – this time to further study what disrupting the traffic flow on Washington Street would do to traffic on other streets. One of the suggestions was to temporarily close Washington Street and see how it goes.
Engineer Tom Foht of Kapur and Associates said that temporarily closing the street would provide an insight into the issue, but maybe not as much as the commission would like.
“Is it a real, actual look of what’s going to happen?” asked Foht. “Probably not.”
To back up the Fire Department’s support of the first option – one backed by new Director of Public Works Craig Workman – Fire Chief Dick Lodle had recorded a number of videos at the fire station showing the dangers of the current intersection.
One of the videos was staged, Lodle said, to show how some drivers respond to trucks going in and out of the fire station. However, another four to five drivers were spontaneously caught driving around the trucks, refusing to stop for the trucks when those trucks had flashing lights – and in one case, a driver honking his horn because the fire truck driver was taking too long backing the truck into the firehouse.
Alderman Tom Vos, also a member of the Plan Commission, said the video showed one thing for sure.
“It shows me we have five people who should’ve been ticketed, and a sixth person, the one who blew the horn, who’s an idiot,” Vos said. But he was against closing Washington Street, saying that the traffic backups on Milwaukee Avenue could – and likely would – create equal safety concerns.
In addition, Vos said the current tab for the project – including the purchase of the land and the former home, plus creation of the parking lot and the work on Washington Street – is about $300,000. Vos said that is “putting all our eggs in one basket,” meaning the current fire station. With the City and the Town of Burlington currently engaging in a study of possible joint operations in the future, the future may not support all the work being done there.
Mayor Bob Miller made a point that what is currently happening is a safety issue. He pointed out that fires double in size every minute, which is important to keep in mind when realizing trucks could get stuck because of traffic.
Alderman Bob Prailes said, “We see it as a problem,” meaning the traffic on Milwaukee Avenue.
Rather than force a decision, the commission – and Vos in particular – said the city needs to know what will happen, rather than adopt a “wait and see” approach once the street was closed.
“I want to know what’s going to happen to the traffic before it happens,” Vos said.