FOX 11 Investigates: Traffic congestion in Brown County

Traffic backup near the BayPark Square mall in Ashwaubenon (WLUK)

DE PERE (WLUK) - There's nothing more frustrating for motorists than sitting in traffic.

Backups are understandable if there has been a crash. But there are those spots where cars are just at a standstill for what appears no reason at all.

“It’s just there’s so much traffic coming from east to west and west to east,” explained one motorist of one traffic hot spot. “I think people have trouble getting through it because many people don’t follow the rules.”

We're looking at the backups in Brown County. Why Brown County? Well, Brown County actually gets federal money to examine where the congestion happens, and offer recommendations to those communities to try and fix the problems.

“It's a federal requirement based on the population size,” said Devin Yoder, a Transportation planner with Brown County. He’s working full time on the federally required and funded "Congestion Management Process Report," expected out at the end of the year.

Brown County is the only county in Northeast Wisconsin with this federal mandate because it's the only county with a population of 200,000 or more. And that means it has more cars and trucks out on its roads.

“We had people identify areas where they experience traffic congestion,” said Yoder. “After seeing what people said we also had gone out to observe at those sites.”

And the number one traffic congested area in Brown County is…at the roundabout on the east side of the Claude Allouez bridge in De Pere.

“Does that surprise you?” FOX11 Investigates asked De Pere Mayor Mike Walsh.

“No because we experience it every day. We know that at certain periods of time every day that we're going to have that congestion here,” said Walsh.

If De Pere Mayor Mike Walsh isn't surprised by the #1 ranking, neither should you. That's because the same federally mandated study into congestion, required every five years, pinpointed the De Pere roundabout as the biggest problem for motorists back in 2013.

Suggestions were offered five years ago, and Walsh says De Pere was already working to alleviate the backups by reconfiguring the roundabout.

“We've changed some of the traffic pattern in the roundabout so it makes it easier for (motorists), so we wouldn't have backup in both lanes,” said Walsh.

Statistics show the number of crashes at the roundabout have been cut in half from 89 between 2007-2009 to 45 between 2013-2015.

It's hard to say just how much of your tax dollars is going to pay to analyze traffic congestion--Brown County couldn't say. But it's part of federal funding Brown County receives every year. This year the county budget from the Federal Highway Administration is $304,000.

But while funding is in place to study the congestion, money to pay to fix it is another story.

“The reality of this is the plan will inform when there are opportunities to make improvements but that's ultimately dependent on money being available,” said Yoder.

“Do you think it's money well spent?” FOX11 Investigates asked Walsh.

“Well it's always nice to get information,” said Walsh. “I think if you go to the individual communities even to the individual counties, they know where their problem areas are. Sometimes I'd rather see the money go toward fixing it.”

Brown County received 54 complaints in its motorist survey earlier this year about the congestion at the De Pere roundabout. That's twice as many as the second most complained about congested area-- the intersections at State Highway 172 and County Road GV.

De Pere's Main Avenue on the West Side is the third most congested area in Brown County with cars often caught up in this busy shopping district.

The city is planning another roundabout in front of the McDonald's here to eliminate one of the many lights along this stretch of roadway. Walsh says plans to rework the road were put on hold due to lack of state funding.

“There's a reason why you live in a smaller community and one of them is traffic congestion or lack there of. And that's all we're trying to do is make it a little bit easier for people to get through our community and to shop in our community.”

Most of the other major congested areas for motorists are when getting off the highway and navigating lights-- at 43 and Manitowoc Road, 43 and Mason, and 172 and Webster on the east side. And at 41 and Mason on the west side.

Mason at 41 continues to be a trouble spot even though the state in the past few years reworked the area putting in a series of roundabouts to help the traffic flow.

Brown County Principal Planner Cole Runge reminds us the problems--without the ongoing work--would be even worse.

“If we hadn't done a lot of those things and DOT hadn't done a lot of the things it has done, we'd be seeing a lot more congestion at this point,” explained Runge.

The final report from Brown County Planning which includes pedestrian access, transit options and much more, won't be completed until the end of the year. Here’s a link to the congestion study Brown County did back in 2013.

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