NEW BERLIN — Every evening, the largest intersection in the heart of New Berlin comes close to being a game of dodgem cars that’s not very fun.
Cars piling up in the intersection because traffic ahead of them is at a standstill makes it a struggle to get through Moorland Road and National Avenue at evening rush hours. Frustrated drivers just trying to get home end up doing things they probably wouldn’t do, otherwise.
“They’ll go zig-zagging through them. It’s pretty chaotic,” said New Berlin Police Captain Paul Repischak.
“I’ve witnessed some borderline road rage behavior,” he said, with drivers pulling out suddenly, honking their horns. Some cars even go on the shoulder to get out of the way, he said.
Adds to appeals
Repischak sits on the New Berlin Safety Commission that is trying to do something about the situation, even though the city, itself, is powerless to affect what happens on the two Waukesha County roads. Last week, it added its voice to those of residents who have pleaded with Waukesha County to do something.
This spring, the county will change the timing of traffic lights not only at Moorland and National, but on the entire length of Moorland Avenue, from south of Greenfield Avenue to Interstate 43, said Bruce Barnes, senior civil engineer with the county.
Highway engineers just received counts of cars turning from National Avenue onto Moorland Road and from Moorland Road onto Howard Avenue at rush hours. Those counts will form the basis of the timing adjustments, he said.
The lights at Moorland and National cannot be changed immediately because traffic lights along that entire stretch are timed to work together. The goal is to get as much traffic through in the shortest amount of time possible, based on the speed limits, Barnes said. Changing one light would have a ripple effect, causing problems elsewhere, he said.
City officials’ hopes that something could be done short-term to alleviate the congestion are probably doomed to disappointment, Barnes said. Even giving left turners more time would have that unwanted ripple effect, he said.
The problem with the Moorland and National intersection apparently is a spillover from the Moorland Road traffic light only about a half block south at Howard Avenue. Cars headed south back up as they try to turn left onto Howard Avenue that is an entrance to New Berlin City Center shopping and that takes drivers to other stores and to the New Berlin Postal Station on Howard.
Moorland fills up with southbound cars through its intersection with National. That congestion worsens when the light turns green on National Avenue and westbound cars wanting to go south try to filter into the already full Moorland Road. Often, eastbound cars on National can’t go anywhere because they are blocked by the glut of southbound cars and left turners stuck in the intersection.
Part of the problem is drivers being too anxious, Repischak said.
“We have problems with people not stopping for yellow lights and end up stopped in the middle of the intersection,” he said.
Moorland Road drivers aren’t happy, either, no matter which way they are going, said Alderman Chuck Garrigues who also sits on the commission.
Stuck both ways
“Even after the light turns green,” cars headed north on Moorland are often blocked, just as southbound Moorland Road cars are, he said.
“I drive through there quite often,” Garrigues said. “Recently every time I’ve been there during the evening, there’s an issue.”
The problem might be connected to the Zoo Interchange project that closed down a ramp so that drivers could no longer get off Interstate 94 to go south on highway 100, he said. The traffic increase seemed to coincide with that ramp closure, he said. However, that traffic increase doesn’t seem to have gone away, even though the ramp onto highway 100 is open again, he said.
Garrigues wasn’t ready to say that the nightly struggle for drivers in the heart of New Berlin tarnishes the city’s image, but he acknowledged, “Some people who go through the intersection probably get a little angry at times.”
The safety commission consensus was that drivers should have more time to clear the Howard Avenue intersection. However, that too is up to the county, even though Howard is a city street, Repischak said. With Moorland being a county road, it’s the county’s turf and the county is the only one able to fix it, he said.