Damakant Jayshi

Contending that all safety aspects have been considered, Marathon County’s Infrastructure Committee on Thursday forwarded an unchanged amendment to an ordinance creating new routes for ATV/UTV travel.

In doing so, the committee rejected every concern raised by the Marathon County Sheriff, the county board chair and several colleagues on the committee and the Board of Supervisors.

By a vote of 5-2, the Infrastructure Committee advanced the proposal to amend Marathon County Ordinance Section 7.125 that governs all-terrain vehicles and utility terrain vehicles. Unclear is whether the matter will be listed for discussion at the County Board meeting on Tuesday. Infrastructure Committee members said there was still time to include the proposal on next week’s agenda.

The committee had forwarded the amendment to the Board of Supervisors for approval. The Board in turn asked the Public Safety Committee to look into the amendment after the sheriff’s office and a number of Board members raised safety concerns regarding the differential – and controversial – speed limits on proposed routes, extended hours of operation and municipal control of roads under their jurisdiction, among others.

At least three supervisors serving on the Infrastructure Committee – Richard Gumz (Dist. 30), Chris Dickinson (Dist. 29) and Jeff Johnson (Dist. 6) – could barely conceal their annoyance over safety concerns raised at the County Board and Public Safety meetings. Gumz also said “it was disgusting it is taking so long” (to approve the new routes) and objected to a “city supervisor” worrying about safety.

“They don’t know what they are talking about,” Gumz said.

The three supervisors insist they have considered all aspects, including safety issues, after months of discussions and taking input from their constituents, the sheriff’s department and other adjacent counties. It is time to get the amendment passed and move on, they said.

During the Public Comments period, Judy Pagryzinski, representing Rural Riders Club, and Kevin Clint spoke in favor of opening up the new routes for ATV/UTV.

After public comments, Dickinson offered his understanding of the discussions at the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday where Sheriff Scott Parks and County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs each raised safety concerns in light of the proposed amendment. At one point Dickinson said that the sheriff “seemed to be in approval” of allowing the ATVs/UTVs to operate on segments that had a daily traffic volume of up to 1,500 vehicles. Dickinson did not mention that Parks had unambiguously opposed opening the new routes, saying it could cause additional fatalities.

Another point of contention centered on truckers’ views about the new routes. Dickinson said there are many truckers who are members of ATV clubs and those the committee spoke to were in favor of the move. But on Wednesday, Sheriff Parks said many truckers have shared their concerns about ATVs/UTVs on highways with a heavy volume of traffic.

While Wisconsin statute allows a town, village or city “to enact an ordinance to authorize the operation of ATVs on a highway that has a speed limit of 35 mph (miles per hour) or less” within their jurisdiction, it notes that “much of the state highway system operates with speed limits above 35 mph, and these higher speed highways remain off-limits to ATV use without approval from WisDOT (WI Department of Transportation).” The Infrastructure Committee has proposed adding a provision of allowing a lower speed limit for ATVs/UTVs.

“Speed limits on any highway are set after careful consideration to enhance safety and facilitate traffic flow for the traveling public and are typically not based on a specific type of vehicle,” WisDOT says. “Anyone interested in how speed limits are established is encouraged to view WisDOT’s pamphlet on the topic.”

The Wisconsin Senate (senate Bill 506) and Assembly (Assembly Bill 516) have proposed an amendment to allow local bodies to post speed limit for ATVs/UTVs on highways in their jurisdiction.

Parks said another challenge his department would face is the shortage of staff to patrol the newly designated routes that would see more traffic – and likely more crashes.

Parks also objected to extended hours of operation for ATVs/UTVs in the Infrastructure proposal, saying allowing such vehicles to operate in darkness will cause more accidents. Dickinson said that vehicles in Marathon County already operate for longer time in “darkness” compared to the state.

“There is no evidence that fatalities occur in darkness,” Dickinson said. “They occur between 12 and 8 (p.m.).”

Despite this, the Infrastructure amendment has proposed that ATVs/UTVs be allowed to 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The majority on the Infrastructure Committee, while saying they respected “local control” of their municipal roads, defeated an amendment that formalized their right to not open their roads to ATVs/UTVs.

There was some discussion about the scenario in which Marathon County allowed ATVs/UTVs to operate on segments that subsequently connected to a neighboring county highway which is closed.

In the end, Infrastructure green lighted their previously approved ordinance amendment and rejected the suggestions and concerns by the Public Safety made a day before.

Public Safety asks Infrastructure to consider safety measures regarding ATV/UTV routes

Marathon County’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday listed several safety concerns and potential measures to address them if and when segments of the county’s roads were to be opened for ATV and UTV use.

Chair of the Public Safety, Matthew Bootz (Dist. 13), summed up the discussions and concerns from his colleagues on the committee and said they were not making any formal amendment to the ordinance ‘Section 7.125 of the Marathon County Code Relating to the Designation of ATV/UTV Routes and Trails and Regulation of ATV/UTV Operations within Marathon County’ that was passed by the Infrastructure Committee last month.

Instead, Bootz added, his committee would like the Infrastructure Committee to address the sheriff’s concerns about safety if the roads were opened, concerns about daily vehicle count on highways, truck traffic on those highways, honoring local townships’ control on their roads, the times of operation of ATVs/UTVs and concerns of neighboring counties.

Supervisor Jennifer Bizzotto (Dist. 2), a member of the Public Safety Committee, and Supervisor John Robinson (Dist. 4) from the Infrastructure Committee agreed with Board chair Gibbs and Sheriff Parks about the need to address safety concerns. Bizzotto also concerned about the proposed extended times for the ATVs/UTVs and suggested to continue with the current hours of operation. Robinson expressed his concerns about “conflicts with trucks” that the Infrastructure Committee did not address during its discussions.

However, the pleas about safety failed to persuade Supervisor Dickinson (Dist. 29), a member of the Infrastructure Committee who attended the meeting. Dickinson pointed out that his committee took months and considered every aspect regarding ATV/UTV routes, including safety concerns. He said the number of fatalities involving ATVs/UTVs was low in Marathon County compared to other places and in the state as a whole. The supervisor from Stratford also expressed his annoyance that his committee’s work was being questioned, adding that the work of a committee should not be undone by another, and warned about the consequences of such a precedent.

The Public Safety discussed the ordinance after the County Board voted to have more discussion on the topic last week despite strong objections from Dickinson and other members of the Infrastructure Committee as well as a few other members of the Board.