Bypass around the center of Fort Atkinson, a small city in rural Wisconsin.
Project Type:Bypass Project Mode:Highway Average Annual Daily Traffic:8,700 Length (mi):26.00
Economic Distress:1.09 Population Density (ppl/sq mi):143 Population Growth Rate (%):0.53
Employment Growth Rate (%):0.68 Market Size:17,341 Airport Travel Distance:103.083 Topography:4
Region:Great Lakes / Plains State:WI County:County
City:Fort Atkinson Urban/Class Level:Rural Local Area:N/A
Impact Area:County Transportation System:N/A GIS Lat/Long:42.934810 / -88.873877
Initial Study Date:N/A Post Constr. Study Date:2000
Constr. Start Date:1993 Constr. End Date:1995
Project Year of Expenditure (YOE): N/A Planned Cost (YOE $):N/A
Actual Cost (YOE $):21,000,000 Actual Cost (curr $):29,667,736
NOTE: All pre/post dollar values are in 2013$
Select a region to display the conditions for that region:
NOTE: All impact dollar values are in 2013$
|Income (in $M's)||4231960.00||1555970.00||5787930.00|
|Output (in $M's)||16162000.00||5942310.00||22104310.00|
The principal economic impact of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin's Highway 26 Bypass was to encourage investment in the city's Main Street downtown historic district. By removing congestion and improving safety downtown, the 7.3 mile long, two-lane bypass has supported the development of the tourist industry. This has supported the city's transition from agriculture and manufacturing toward a broader mix of entertainment and services. The city's potential for growth is further limited by its rural location, outside of the commuting zones for metro areas. Completed in 1995 at a cost of $21 million, the bypass has had a limited impact on development in the immediate corridor due to both the wetlands and to the lack of water and sewer service in this area. The net economic impact of the bypass is projected to be rather modest at 100 to 150 jobs.
2.1 Location & Transportation Connections
Fort Atkinson, at the junction of the Rock and Bark Rivers in rural Southeastern Wisconsin, grew up as a river port. The city is about 45 minutes southwest of Madison and 90 minutes southwest of Milwaukee. At the hub of three radial two-lane highways, Fort Atkinson has no direct four-lane freeway access. Wisconsin Highway 26 connects with I-94, 15 miles to the north. Equidistant to the south is I-90, connecting to Chicago (2.5 hours).
2.2 Community Character & Project Context
Fort Atkinson, with a population of around 12,000, is the second largest city in rural Jefferson County in Southeastern Wisconsin. In recent years, the city has experienced below-average growth in population and jobs. The economic base has diversified away from dairy farming to a broader mix of manufacturing industries and services. The area has a high concentration of employment in healthcare, food processing, metals manufacturing, and furniture. Fort Healthcare, with over 1,000 jobs, is the largest employer.
Tourism is growing and the city's historic Main Street (which was bypassed by the project) continues to undergo revitalization. There are some dairy farming heritage sites and a cluster of Indian burial mounds, just south of the city. The city's main tourist draw is the Fireside Dinner Theater, which caters to bus tour groups from all over the country.
Wisconsin Highway 26 runs north-south connecting Fort Atkinson with Madison, 35 miles northwest. The Highway 26 bypass forms a semi-circular beltway around the western flank of the city at a radius of two to three miles from the center. It is 7.3 miles long and has four cloverleaf interchanges. The bypass is not a freeway as there are several at-grade crossings. The Highway 26 bypass was originally designed to be a four-lane road but was made two-lane due to funding limits. There are currently plans to expand it to four lanes.
The bypass was built to support WisDOT's Corridors 2020 Plan which was intended to provide safe mobility on key highways and to relieve congestion in town centers. The old route through Fort Atkinson was choked with truck traffic that created a barrier between the city's neighborhoods, resulting in traffic delays, safety problems, and environmental degradation that threatened the future of retailing in the central city's historic Main Street district.
The project had wide community support, due to the benefits it promised in congestion relief and safety. A few traffic-serving retail and service businesses were concerned about loss of trade from reduced traffic counts on Main Street. To date, there has been no significant trade loss as witnessed by the fact that all of these businesses are still operating today.
A number of alignments were considered, including rebuilding the existing route through the city. A western route passing through farmland and wetlands was selected, largely due to its non-encroachment on existing developed areas. Construction of the bypass started in 1993 and was completed in 1995. The final cost of the project was $21 million (1995$) and funded by the state of Wisconsin.
4.1 Transportation Impacts
The Highway 26 bypass has reduced congestion and improved safety downtown, through which there has been a substantial reduction in truck traffic. On the segment of the bypass north of Highway 12, traffic has plummeted by 60% from 13,100 AADT to 5,300. South of Highway 12, traffic counts (12,800) are now just 4% below pre-bypass levels. The estimated time savings of using the bypass over the old route is 5 minutes. This amounts to a total vehicle time savings of nearly 700 hours a day.
4.2 Demographic, Economic & Land Use Impacts
The main economic impact of the bypass was to encourage investment in the city's historic Main Street downtown district, which has proved to be a magnet for tourists. The bypass removed truck and other through traffic from Main Street, a narrow four-lane road with parking on both sides. This resulted in a significant improvement in the environment and in pedestrian safety. Assessed values in the downtown Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) district have doubled since 2000 to $22.8 million.
In 1998, Wisconsin DOT conducted a study of the impacts of the WI-26 bypass on the growth and development of Fort Atkinson, as part of a larger study. This study concluded that the bypass, which had been completed three years earlier, had little economic impact on the community. Some industrial development to the south was beginning to occur and retail development was starting to gravitate toward the western interchange at US-12.
From 1990 to 2000, the population of the city grew by 12%, a rate that was equal to the county-wide average and was below that of Milton (13 miles south of Fort Atkinson on Highway 26). From 1987 to 2002, jobs grew by 85% in Fort Atkinson, a rate significantly above the countywide average growth rate of 24%. By 2000, per capita income was slightly below that of both Milton (which was not bypassed) and the county as a whole. Fort Atkinson's house prices were also 10% below the county average.
In the decade since 1998, there has been a modest amount of commercial and industrial development in the vicinity of the bypass. Just after the bypass was built, a new state-of-the art high school was built near the US 12 interchange, on the city's far western flank. This extended uses. These businesses employ an estimated 100 workers.
The Economic Census data for 1987 to 2002 shows a net gain of 260 jobs in traffic-serving businesses in Fort Atkinson. These include retailing, restaurants, hotels, and miscellaneous services. Based on the data analysis and the interview processes, an estimated 100 to 150 jobs have resulted directly from the bypass.
Initially, the wetlands areas surrounding most of the bypass corridor limited development potential. There is also a lack of utilities in the largely-undeveloped bypass corridor. Most new development has occurred near US-12, where the construction of a new school has extended utilities for new development. Additionally, the rural location has limited the city's development potential because it is outside of the commuting zones for metropolitan areas. Consequently, commuting has driven the growth of most small cities in Wisconsin.
More significant than new job creation has been the contribution of the bypass to downtown revitalization which has gained momentum since heavy through-traffic was removed from Main Street. This has enhanced Fort Atkinson's appeal as a tourist destination.
Wisconsin DOT, Economic Impact of Bypass on Communities, Jan 1998.
City of Fort Atkinson Comprehensive Plan, July 2008.
Jefferson County Economic Consortium, Annual Report for 2007
OrganizationFort Atkinson Wisconsin DOT (Department of Transportation)