DALTON — Marquette County resident David Miller held a tape measure between the spokes on his horse buggy Friday at his family's rural residence in the town of Buffalo near Dalton.
Columbia County Board District 3 Supervisor Tom Borgkvist, who lives in the nearby town of Marcellon, held up the other end of the tape measure. The tool indicated the horse-drawn wagon was just shy of 5 feet, 6 inches wide from wheel to wheel.
"I'd rather they not put the 5-foot shoulders in at all," Miller said.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation plans to expand the existing shoulders on Highway 22 to accommodate Amish buggy drivers, traffic safety engineer Ryan Mayer told Columbia County's Traffic Safety Commission on Friday morning.
Under the state department's plan, the existing shoulders will be widened from 3 feet to 5 feet wide, Mayer said, adding the safety of all drivers is important.
That roughly $5 million expansion project along Highway 22 covers about 5 miles of roadway between intersections with Highway 33 and County Road CM.
Construction on the new roadway shoulders is scheduled to begin in 2020, Columbia County Highway Commissioner Chris Hardy said.
Mayer said at Friday's meeting the Department of Transportation plans to build 5-foot-wide pavement with a foot of gravel on the edges of the road. Doing so will help secure the pavement in place and reduce erosion on the slopes along Highway 22.
"Our maintenance section was concerned that if you pave a 6-foot shoulder with nothing on the outside of it, that outside edge of the asphalt just starts falling away," Mayer said. "That's gonna be consistent with that we're doing on 33."
Borgkvist said he was disappointed with the state department's decision because it would put the safety of Amish horse buggy drivers at risk.
He also took issue of how state officials handled the discussion, saying they made a final decision without aptly consulting with local residents.
Borgkvist said he attended a town of Buffalo meeting last month with Miller and learned the Department of Transportation is building 6-foot paved shoulders along Highway 22 all the way north to Montello.
"That makes no sense to me," Borgkvist said.
Columbia County Board District 12 Supervisor Barry Pufahl also expressed concern at Friday's meeting, saying the safety of Amish residents must take priority over money.
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"Five foot is not wide enough for the buggies, and that means buggies are going to be in the gravel. I worry about kids too, out there," Pufahl said. "We can't ignore this."
Portage Police Department Lt. Rich Hoege asked Miller how wide the average horse buggy is.
Miller estimated most buggies are 5½ feet wide but told Hoege he needed to double-check whether that was accurate. He later confirmed his estimate at home.
"Presumably, they'll be over the white line a little bit," Columbia County Sheriff's Office Lt. Todd Horn said during Friday's meeting.
At home Friday evening, Miller said some Amish children take horse-drawn buggies to school traveling along Highway 22. There is no age restriction to drive a buggy.
"The highway is not a playground," Miller said, adding he often reminds children to be careful and that Amish residents are conscious of highway risks.
Because buggy wheels weave back and forth, even if the state built 6-foot shoulders, the drivers would have no more than 6 inches on either side of their wheels to steer within, Miller said.
Horses also can be prone to getting spooked if large vehicles pass too closely and could lose their balance, Miller said.
More vehicle operators will assume there is enough room to try passing a buggy once 5-foot-wide shoulders are built, Miller said. That concerns him because people driving cars or trucks might still pass without ample room and clip the edge of the buggies or their wheels, causing an accident.
The town of Marcellon has a public meeting Monday night, and Borgkvist said he expected many residents would be unhappy to hear about the state's decision Friday on the 5-foot shoulders.
Borgkvist said he reached out to multiple state legislators Friday about the width of shoulders in hopes lawmakers might discuss the issue at the Capitol.
This article was updated Aug. 12 to confirm the location of regularly scheduled Marcellon Town Meetings.