Dodgeville stands out as the city that took matters into its own hands when its main downtown street, WIS 23, was reconstructed in 1995. City and business leaders were proactive in organizing a cooperative plan to offset the unavoidable impacts of a roadway that would be torn up for six months.
WIS 23 runs through the heart of Dodgeville on Iowa and Bequette streets. The 1.3-mile segment slated for reconstruction impacted the community's main retail businesses that were clustered in a stretch of about half a mile, all along a single street, with a few businesses on adjacent parallel streets. The highway was riddled with potholes, and in some places was just two lanes wide, without curbs or paved parking areas.
The community wanted to make sewer improvements at the same time it rebuilt the street. People were anxious to make improvements and understood that reconstruction would entail dirty, dusty conditions that would be inconvenient for customers as well as drivers.
Businesses started planning for the project long before the first road building equipment arrived and a May 1 "street breaking" ceremony was held. At least two years prior to construction, city and business leaders consulted with WisDOT design engineers; all agreed WIS 23 needed to be closed.
Access to local residences and businesses was critical though, and that meant pedestrians would be required to walk past construction equipment to enter storefronts. To address this obstacle, businesses agreed to provide rear entrances that would be signed and strongly promoted. WisDOT also agreed to stage the project, finishing one segment of the work by July 4, another by Labor Day, and the last section by late October. The deadlines were incorporated into the construction contract so perspective bidders knew what was expected of them.
Dodgeville was fortunate to have an active, well-run business coalition that took the lead in assisting businesses. Dodgeville Revitalization was its Main Street program, and the group participated in the city's planning efforts, acting as a representative of the merchants' broad interests. They designated a special committee to deal with construction issues and projects, and also coordinated promotion and signing to help customers reach businesses.
Dodgeville's plan for dealing with road construction included several significant features:
- Early planning with WisDOT and the city to get a mutually agreeable construction contract in place.
- A monthly newsletter to business coalition members.
- Signs that were uniform and colorful.
- Placemat maps to guide customers.
- Cooperative advertising in the local newspaper.
- A weekly construction update printed in the local newspaper.
Despite all the extra effort that was invested, businesses in Dodgeville did suffer temporary sales declines while WIS 23 was rebuilt. The objective with the special efforts was to soften the blow though, and according to a representative from Dodgeville Revitalization, Dodgeville survived what could have been an extremely difficult time for merchants, and disruption was kept to a minimum.