New J-Turn to Save Lives, Bad for Business

By KBJR News 1

October 14, 2011 Updated Oct 14, 2011 at 6:07 PM CDT

A newly designed intersection, called a "J" turn is complete after several months of construction in Hawthorne, Wisconsin and its left many in the area upset.

The J-turn was designed with safety in mind but the intersection has made it tough to get to several Hawthorne businesses. Several business owners say they've been left on a virtual island with minimal access.

Cars whipping by the small town of Hawthorne isn't new to the community. Highway 53 separates the East and West side of the town and townspeople have seen many crashes over the years. Brenden Dirkes, who developed the innovative intersection for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, says the new "J" intersection will save lives.

"What it does is eliminate the county road traffic. County highway B from directly crossing both lanes of traffic on freeway 53. Since this segment of 53 has been converted to 4 lanes, about 15 years we've had somewhere around 50 accidents."

Everyone agrees that fewer vehicle crashes is great, but the road work has created a new set of problems.

"I have good Friends who will not come here because of this crossing."

Country Road B drivers could easily cross before, but now must get onto 53 and make U-turn. Raymer Miller says the intersection has become a mess of confusion for community members and visitors alike.

"People that come here, they go back that way, they don't know how to get back across the highway and you can't come from across the highway to get over here."

With diminished access to the other side of CR B, Roadhouse owner Donald Wermter is land locked and can only watch as cars drive by. He wanted to retire soon, but those plans might have to STOP now.

"Our local people and people off the highway is gone. We basically have lost probably 20 percent of our business at least. Our bar is worse than our gas station is. It's getting so bad that our age, I'm 62, we thinking about starting to bartend again.

The last few days since the "J" intersection has opened, Wermter says there have been three close calls on the road. Only time will tell if the intersection is actually safer.

Wermter told us today that he witnessed a fire truck heading east on CR B and it took an extra five minutes to make it past his business toward the scene.

Jordan Weinand