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Nicolet Students, Neighbors and Faculty Support Replacing Tunnel With Footbridge

Plans for I-43 are being built by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Nicolet High School neighbors support replacing the tunnel to auxiliary sports fields with an overpass footbridge, while others also want a sound barrier.

neighbors support replacing the tunnel between the school and soccer fields with a pedestrian footbridge in sync with proposed I-43 corridor reconstruction, and also want protection from the noise associated with increasing traffic.

"Were finding out what the community wants, what the needs are, desires are, challenges are. We're really in an informational-gathering stage," said Michael Pyritz, spokesman for the Department of Transportation. 

"The high school is very interested in going with a pedestrian bridge up and over (I-43) which when it rains heavily, it turns itself into a waterway. That’s a great example of how the DOT is working with local interests to identify what the concerns and challenges are," Pyritz said. 

I-43 is one of the largest thoroughfares between Southeastern Wisconsin and the entire state, with more than 99,000 vehicles making their way through that corridor north of Silver Spring Drive daily, according to the DOT. And with all that traffic, the freeway is approaching the end of its life cycle and in desperate need of not just a face-lift, but a full reconstruction, Pyritz said. 

"The useful lifespan of that roadway is coming to completion," Pyritz said. "It was built back in the '70s and, quite honestly, the structure underneath the road is such that you’re only getting so much more life out of resurfacing and what you really need to do is a full rebuild."

Pyritz said with the broad range of temperatures and weather patterns we experience in Wisconsin, the roadway simply will not be drivable without a full rehabilitation. Using a "band aid" won't cut it anymore he said. 

"You get the contraction, expansion, the 25-below degree days, the 104-degree days," he said. "At a certain point, you can get buckling, sink holes, really bad pitting which is pot holes and cracks that make the ride dangerous. At a certain point, you just can’t put band-aids on it by filing cracks or patching potholes anymore."

Jake Levey graduated from Nicolet in 2010 and agreed that the tunnel needs to be upgraded. During his time at Nicolet, the tunnel was already leaking. 

"I think that's a smart decision," he said. "The underground tunnel was how we got to soccer practice. It was just a tunnel, it served its purpose. (But) there is probably just a ton of wear-and-tear from years of Wisconsin winter and from being under a busy highway that eventually, the leak might get worse."

Richard J. Cecil lives on Daphne Road just south of the high school and is also in support of the reconstruction. 

"I think it’s probably a really good idea because tunnels are notoriously difficult to maintain, they leak, they flood," Cecil said.

Tunnel trouble from local teens

The July 2010 floods decimated more than 80 percent of the high school, causing so much damage that school started two weeks late, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

"You don’t know what’s going on in some of those tunnels, to be quite honest," Cecil said. 

Fox Point resident Rachel Herrenbruck agreed. Herrenbruck has two kids who attend Nicolet right now and they've told her some interesting things they've discovered about that tunnel. 

"From what my kids have told me it's a place for mischief," she said. "There are a lot of cigarette wrappers and broken glass."

And even with some of the "mischief" in the tunnel, Herrenbruck says many students make their way through that tunnel because it is the shortest, easiest path between Nicolet at the shops near Pick 'n Save. 

"My daughter and her friends prefer to use the tunnel to get to Jimmy John's and because there's no sidewalk on Jean Nicolet Road," she said. 

'Horrendous' traffic too loud for locals

And while nearby Nicolet residents, students and staff are in support of replacing the old tunnel with a new footbridge, some are more concerned with installing a sound barrier. 

"We have to listen to the traffic which is horrendous," Cecil said. "We put our patio on the other side of the house." 

Tom Rentmaster also lives just south of the high school and said there's a lot more traffic than there used to be, so he also wants a sound barrier installed. However, what's most important to him is his daughter's safety when she crosses I-43. She will attend this fall and Rentmaster said he feels much safer with her being higher in the air and more visible than walking through a dark tunnel. 

Construction is not slated to begin until 2018; however, Pyritz said now is the time to voice any comments, questions or concerns so they can be worked into the construction plan. 

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