A four-lane U.S. Highway 12 bypass route built west of Baraboo altered the course of traffic and commerce when it opened in August.

The two-year, $85 million project was voted the top story of 2017 by the Baraboo News Republic news staff.

The new road sent traffic from the former route of U.S. 12 — now called state Highway 136 — to a new four-lane road from Ski-Hi Road south of Baraboo to Terrytown Road north of the city. The state Department of Transportation sought to ease congestion and speed up traffic flow.

The bypass was built with two exits into the community, one at Sauk County Highway W into Baraboo and another at 136 in West Baraboo.

Construction work closed single lanes of traffic over the summer, and there was work to be done even after the bypass opened. The DOT removed a roundabout in West Baraboo to return Sauk County Highway BD to its original alignment.

Community and business leaders prepared for the bypass’ opening for more than a year, planning signage and a marketing campaign designed to get drivers into the community. The Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have launched a branding campaign, inviting marketing firms to submit bids next month.

Some saw the bypass and its exits as an opportunity. Pizza Ranch built a new restaurant next to the Highway W exit last year, moving from its original location on the old U.S. 12 route. Domino’s also fled that route, building a new pizzeria near Baraboo High School.

The Highway W exit also has attracted AutoZone, which is seeking city approval to build an auto parts store at the intersection of W and Highway 136. That intersection also has seen a credit union and a Kwik Trip go up in recent years.

Meanwhile, U-Haul has bought long-dormant commercial buildings near the 136 exit.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony in August, West Baraboo Village President Dave Dahlke said the bypass would be an economic driver. “This is a big deal for us,” Dahlke said. “Down the road, I think the economic impact for the Baraboo area is going to be huge.”

Bypass construction began in 2015. Another bypass built west of U.S. 12’s previous alignment, a northern section running from Terrytown Road to Lake Delton, opened in 2011.

The DOT plans to rebuild the old U.S. 12, now known as Highway 136, next year.

“I am excited about the opportunities the new four-lane will bring to our community,” Bobbie Boettcher, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The four-lane will make it easier than ever to make day trips to Baraboo as well as providing a safer work commute. It will positively impact Baraboo with new business opportunities and ease of travel for our guests.”

Not everyone’s happy with the changes the bypass spurred. Traffic from the Highway W exit has created backups at traffic lights at the intersection of W and 136. Some drivers have asked the city to activate a set of lights at W and Commerce Avenue built years ago, but the city engineer says doing so could create backups if traffic exiting U.S. 12 at W were to run into red lights.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley