Study: Rumble strips, new signs would make rural Brown Co. highways safer

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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) -- From rumble strips and wider roads to more signs and wider shoulders, changes are in the works to make driving on Brown County highways less dangerous.

The improvements come in a long-awaited and first-of-its-kind 5-year study that used crash data to pinpoint problem areas on rural roads in Brown County.

CLICK HERE to read the Brown County Roadway Safety Plan (PDF format)

"It's such a huge head start. For us to be able to, for the first time in Brown County's history, go out and look at our roads from a safety perspective, that is huge," says Brown County Highway Commissioner Paul Fontecchio.

Rumble strips had been removed at an intersection in southern Brown County where two people were killed in July.

While the county's highway commissioner wanted to put them back in for safety, town residents fought it, and still are, amid concerns of noise.

Although people in other rural communities voiced concern about installing rumble strips at other intersections across the county, the highway department has since installed them at 10 intersections.

Fontecchio says complaints have silenced.

"There was a lot of people that were nervous about them beforehand, and we've had zero complaints afterwards," says Fontecchio. "I think part of it is, we did make them a little shallower, and I do believe that helped cut down on some of the noise."

And more rumble strips are in the works, but based on suggestions in the 67-page county highway safety plan, many will be placed at center lines and on road shoulders, especially on curves, across rural Brown County.

The first will come this spring on a series of curves on Highway T north of Denmark.

"It jolts you out of it. It's going to be something that wakes you up and says, wait a minute, what's going on?" says Fontecchio, explaining the effects rumble strips should have on drivers.

He presented the findings of the safety plan to the Brown County Traffic Safety Commission in its January meeting, pointing to what he says is a key -- that the report is independent, compiled by a firm in Minnesota -- but conducted entirely based on traffic data and five years of crash statistics, not emotion, letting the past predict changes for the future.

"You set up the criteria and the computer is giving you the recommendations, which is fascinating, because some of the areas that came out of this were not on our radar," says Fontecchio.

That includes Highway D, near the Town of Holland, where the study showed a high rate of drivers going off the road.

Fontecchio's crews will now look at possible upgrades there.

More will come on Highway W in an area where there was a fatal crash in November.

Fontecchio has $50,000 budgeted for the year and says he'll push for improvements where he can.

He hopes rumble strips or new signs, which the report lists as low cost (up to $2,600) but up to 40 percent effective at preventing serious crashes, will prove life-saving.

"There's a lot to look at, but we'll try our best to prioritize it," says Fontecchio. "We'll build it into the projects we have scheduled."

While the report lists several pages of recommendations, he says the county has still not determined which projects will be completed, when, or what order that might happen.