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Rhinelander logging truck driver supports DOT's roundabout proposal at Highways 8 and 47Submitted: 01/22/2018

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RHINELANDER - Ninety-eight thousand pounds rumbling down a road at 45 miles per hour don't exactly stop or turn on a dime.

"If you try to get around us, it's like chasing a train," truck driver Scott Schoeneck said.  "There's only going to be problems."

That's why Schoeneck, who owns his own logging truck company, takes it slow, especially approaching a specific intersection in Rhinelander.

"We're big and we take up two lanes fairly quickly," Schoeneck said.

Schoeneck, who has driven semi-trucks since 1989, drives through the Highway 8 and 47 intersection on Rhinelander's west side at least twice a day. He says a proposed roundabout there would be a welcome sight.

"When they're built correctly, they're a great traffic-flow asset," Schoeneck said of roundabouts. "When they're built too small, they become detrimental to what we do."

In early December, the Department of Transportation proposed upgrading the intersection with either a roundabout or offset turn lanes to help with safety and aging roadway. The DOT recorded 28 crashes between 2012 and 2016, including one crash where a woman died in 2013.

The DOT admits a roundabout comes with a learning curve for any driver, but DOT Project Development Supervisor Mike Wendt says newer roundabouts are designed with large trucks in mind.

"All of those standard loads would be able to transverse through this intersection," Wendt said. "It would be designed to accommodate them."

In addition to the roundabout, Wendt says the DOT's plans would make merging from Highway 8 east onto Highway 8/47 toward Crandon easier and safer.

"[Right now] you're at about a 60-degree angle where you really have to turn back to take a look at traffic that's coming," Wednt said. "We're going to bring them in straight and then that right turn movement will not need to transverse around the circle."

Wendt says the proposed Rhinelander roundabout -- if that's the option chosen -- could actually allow over-sized and over-weight loads (known as OSOW) to go through as well. Wendt says people shouldn't only think of semi-trucks as being able to easily get through the roundabout.

"(Recreational vehicles) pulling boats, you know large campers, [that] type of thing, that all needs to be taken into perspective when people are driving a roundabout," Wendt said.

The DOT held a public input session on the proposals in mid-december. Wednt says about 70 percent of people there supported a roundabout. Since then, the DOT has collected letters and emails of which, Wendt says, about 65 percent have been in support of the roundabout.

A roundabout would cost between $2 million and $2.5 million, while the offset left-turn lanes option would cost between $3 million and $3.6 million.

"Least costly of the alternatives," Wednt said of a roundabout. "However, we are taking a look at what we actually need for a grade change there."

Ultimately, the decision is the DOT's to make.  Wendt expects a decision to come by the end of January.  Schoeneck knows where his vote would fall, speaking in favor of the roundabout. He hopes Rhinelander gets several roundabouts in the future.

"If everybody just be patient with us, we'll be patient with them," Schoeneck said.

The Rhinelander City Council planned to discuss a letter from Public Works Director Tim Kingman during a special meeting Monday night. The letter voices the Council's support for the roundabout proposal, but would need the Council's approval before it's sent.  According to Alderman Alex Young, the council decided to take no action and not send the letter, opting to wait for the DOT's decision.

Once the DOT makes its pick, construction wouldn't start until 2019.

Story By: Lane Kimble

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