Douglas County and the towns of Solon Springs and Bennett are making a road swap - County Highway AA for Sjoberg and Wasko roads.
Douglas County will gain about 1.9 miles of road when it turns over jurisdiction for less than a 1-mile stretch of county highway and takes over jurisdiction for 2.72 miles that make up Sjoberg and Wasko road. Canadian National Railway will pay to upgrade the town roads to county highway standards as part of the swap.
"CN is interested in a long-term solution that improves both safety and convenience," said Jonathan Abecassis, a spokesman for CN. "As we are still in discussions with our partners, we will decline to comment further."
The Douglas County Board approved the exchange last week.
"For us to agree with the transfer, I am recommending that it is upgraded to county highway standards," said Highway Commissioner Jason Jackman. He said while the roads are not designated for truck routes current, truck traffic will be using those roads instead of County Highway AA to reach U.S. Highway 53, and the grade crossing on County Highway AA will be closed.
"What is happening is when the trains are blocking AA, trucks are starting to us Sjoberg and Wasko Road on their own," Jackman said. He said it's a safer alternative than going through downtown Solon Springs where trucks would have to make a 90-degree turn in a tight intersection to stay on County Highway A, where there is another set of train tracks.
"There's not a lot of room there so we don't want them going downtown Solon," Jackman said. "So this would be the bypass up to 53 without them having to hit any tracks or crossings."
Over the years, the amount of time the crossing is blocked by a train and the number of blockages has been on the rise, the highway commissioner said.
"So if they can close that, it's twofold," Jackman said. "It benefits them in their operations and it eliminates any potential for a fatality at that location. It's a big safety improvement and I think that's one of the main reasons they're agreeing to invest in the town roads."
The jurisdictional transfer assures that a future town administration can't change their mind and post Sjoberg or Wasko roads to restrict truck traffic, which would force trucks to travel on County Highway A.
Jackman said after the first of the year, he will meet with railroad officials to select a consultant that will be responsible for designing the project, and acquiring easements and wetland permits where necessary.
"The best case scenario would be to design it in '19 and build it in '20," Jackman said. "I won't close AA until I accept the jurisdictional transfer."
County Highway AA will become a town road on either side of the tracks and Solon Springs will be responsible for maintaining it.