Bay City wants its speed limit lowered: Will the state listen?

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 2/7/24

BAY CITY – Bay City residents and business owners in favor of lowering the speed limit on Highway 35 through town are being asked to vocalize that support at the Feb. 14 village board meeting.

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Bay City wants its speed limit lowered: Will the state listen?


BAY CITY – Bay City residents and business owners in favor of lowering the speed limit on Highway 35 through town are being asked to vocalize that support at the Feb. 14 village board meeting.

Richard Tumaniec, a traffic engineer from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) Northwest Region will be presenting reasons why the DOT is not going to lower the speed limit to 30mph in the 40 and 45mph zones, a stretch of highway that equals .82 miles.

“The Village Board had voted at the Sept. 13, 2023 board meeting to lower the speed limit to 30mph,” said Village Administrator/Clerk/Treasurer Kim Lunda. “This was then presented to the state for a study. We heard back from the state earlier this month as they had reached the decision to not lower it.”

Lunda said the village would like to see a representative from each business along Highway 35 at the Feb. 14 meeting.

“Hopefully the state will see the need to make the road a bit safer for everyone,” Lunda said.

The segment under consideration is the existing 40mph and 45mph speed zones starting 300 feet west of 150th Avenue and extending east to 125 east of the Isabelle Creek bridge. The village asked the DOT to conduct the study because of 12 businesses along Highway 35, traffic volumes and safety for pedestrians and drivers. The village also noted that many communities along the Great River Road have lower speed limits, such as Maiden Rock and Pepin.

“WisDOT conducts these types of investigations to determine the appropriate speed posting based on factors such as prevailing speeds, crash history, density and type of access and adjacent development, rural or urban character, on-street parking, and roadway features such as curvature, width, grades, curb and sidewalk/trails,” a memo dated Jan. 23 from Tumaniec said. “WisDOT’s philosophy is to set speed limits that are based primarily on the 85th percentile speed of the traffic stream. WisDOT does not promote the concept of setting unreasonably low speed limits as a means of enforcing an existing ‘speeding’ issue or to get people to ‘slow down.’ These are enforcement issues.”

Tumaniec noted the highway has no on-street parking or sidewalk located within the segment. He also noted that 21 commercial and residential driveways are on the north side of Highway 35 with the BNSF railroad on the south side. Two town/county roads intersect the highway in the area.

The DOT conducted a speed study at two spots along the segment from Oct. 10-12 and measured average speeds of 48.2 mph .12 mile south of 150th Avenue in the 40mph zone and average speeds of 51.7 mph .19 south of County Road EE in the 45mph zone. Two federally created speed zone tools were used to evaluate the site information and data for suggested speed limits. One tool suggested 45mph in the 40mph zone, while the other suggested keeping it at 40mph. Similarly, one tool suggested 50mph in the 45mph zone, while the other said 45mph was on target.

The report notes from 2019-2023, a total of six documented crashes were reported in the study area. Three were single-vehicle “run off the road crashes” and in two of those, the driver fled the scene (one alcohol related, one hit and run). The third was due to snow and bad tires.

Another crash involved a motorcycle rear-ending a car turning left that had no rear working lights. Two crashes occurred in which the drivers failed to yield.

“Speed was not indicated as a significant factor in any of the documented crashes,” the report states. “The speed data collected, crash history and roadway characteristics do not support lowering the existing 40 or 45 mph speed zones as requested by the Village of Bay City.”

Business owners

Lunda said she doesn’t feel it’s right the DOT conducted the study during the late fall rather than during the busy summer months.

“We all know that the traffic decreases during this time and the study really should have been completed during our busy time, which is Spring and Summer,” Lunda said. “With the campground and lake during the summer, we have at least double the traffic.”  

Dale Kruse, owner of Meathead’s Catering (W6518 Highway 35) said he’s concerned by the speed because he sees the issues firsthand.

“When people don’t adhere to the limit, they’re always going over the limit,” Kruse said. “If the speed limit hits 40 they don’t hit 40 until they’re a fourth of the way through Bay City and then they slow down, and then they start accelerating before they see the sign saying 55.”

Kruse said Bay City is a little different in that the area along Highway 35 is a hodgepodge of businesses and homes. People from the campground and lake often cross the highway on foot to get to the businesses on the other side.

“It’s bad enough you have a train going through at 55 and then we have the traffic and people don’t adhere to the limit,” Kruse said. “If it was at 30, they might be going 35 or 40.  It’s like my dad said when he lived in Welch, when they put up a stop sign by his house, they would just shift gears. They wouldn’t hit the brakes.”

Kruse worried about drivers turning off the highway and trying to get on when people are speeding by. He also worried that people are often distracted by their phones when driving.

“People slow down to go into a driveway, and we’ve seen more than one incident where someone can be rear-ended real quick,” he said. “The whole point should be in the end, it should be up to the community and the residents and businesses and all the people who live in that area. I don’t know why the state thinks it’s only their say. I guess we’ll have to see what the DOT says, but they’re not living there. Would it take a few people walking across the road to get hit to make them realize people need to slow down?”

Kruse said he’s talked to several people who would like to see it lowered. With two bars in town, “liquid courage and stupidity sometimes kick in,” he said.

“I’ve seen motorcycles go through there going about 70. No way they could react to slow down in time. If someone had to react, apply their brakes, how many feet does it take a car going 45 to come to a complete stop? Ten mph can make a big difference,” Kruse said.

Lisa Zarza, owner of the Outpost Bar & Grill (W6454 Highway 35) feels strongly the speed limit should be reduced. It takes vehicles five to 10 minutes to pull out onto Highway 35 sometimes, she said.

“And it’s not a slow pullout, it’s a frenzied one,” Zarza said. “Because 40mph doesn’t mean 40mph to many vehicles coming through Bay City.”

She said the Mississippi River dredging taking place in Upper Pool 4 also creates more vehicle traffic in the area, and she worries about people sitting on the railroad tracks waiting to pull out onto Highway 35.

The Feb. 14 meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Bay City Village Hall (W6391 Main St., Bay City).

Bay City Village Board, Wisconsin DOT, speed study, Highway 35, speed limits