By Neil Johnson - September 14, 2022
At Humes Road and Milton Avenue, traffic is flowing again, albeit in an altered pattern that might surprise those who haven’t traveled the corridor in awhile.
Milton Avenue’s plug-in to Interstate 90/39 is now a “diverging diamond” crossover, making it so motorists don’t have to cross oncoming traffic to enter or exit the Interstate. And it links into a much-upgraded Humes Road, a busy retail spur now mostly open to traffic after months of rebuilding this spring and summer, that has newly added bike lanes and turn upgrades.
But that’s not the only change.
East and west of the juncture of Humes Road and Milton Avenue, an intersection that moves more than 60,000 local and commuter vehicles a day, millions of dollars of new commercial construction projects are now firing off.
In the interim, it’s made the whole corridor resemble a dusty street scene from a spaghetti Western except that the crews are clad in jeans, T-shirts and hard hats instead of cowboy attire.
There’s the hubbub of ongoing construction at 2500 Humes Road, where a former Shopko site is rapidly being revamped into a Hy-Vee. The supermarket-restaurant-pharmacy combo is expected to open this fall, around the time crews now working on Humes Road finish off the first-ever sidewalks along either side of that stretch.
Meanwhile, across Humes Road, Blain’s Farm & Fleet has capped off a major store renovation, completed during the road construction. Just to the west, big-box retailer Target is rolling out a major store facelift inside and out that includes upgraded in-store pickup spaces along with curbside pickup and a revamped Starbucks dine-in kiosk. And just north along Milton Avenue, Kwik Trip is undergoing a store revamp including brand new gas pumps.
That’s a lot of activity during what some analysts have viewed as a downturn that hit just a few months after retailers begun to emerge from the worst of the two-year-long COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not surprising, though. On this part of Milton Avenue, it doesn’t really make a difference what the economy is doing. Where there’s space to build, you build it, and then fill it. That’s how it works,” said Randy Fowler, a city of Janesville building inspector.
Fowler was out taking a look Tuesday at new footings being poured for a future Chili’s restaurant in the former Perkins restaurant lot right at the corner of Humes and Milton Avenue—prime real estate for any development.
Jeff Woodman, whose family owns the future Chili’s site along with the adjacent Kwik Trip and Target lots, said it’s just happenstance that the start of construction on the new Chili’s coincides with the wrap-up of the Humes Road rebuild.
But it’s good happenstance.
Woodman said the pandemic’s impact on the restaurant sector and supply chain bottlenecks for construction are two factors that delayed the Chili’s project for several months.
He said that if Chili’s opens this winter, it will benefit from Humes Road being fully reopened, as a spur that now will now more readily support vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
The Humes Road upgrade is the last piece of more than $1 billion in construction linked to a massive Interstate 90/39 lane expansion between Beloit and Madison that was completed over much of the last decade.
That mega project, including the Humes Road revamp and upgrades to I-90/39 interchanges at Milton Avenue and Humes Road, will soon be in the rearview mirror.
It will allow the corridor, after years of heavy construction, detours and closures, to settle into a traffic pattern that state transportation analysts expect will positively evolve as Janesville continues to develop as a Midwest trucking and distribution nexus.
Woodman’s view of the corridor remains as it has been all the years since his family converted part of their family’s farm for development.
Traffic counts continue to be part of the big picture.
“I can’t tell you by the numbers at this point yet. But yeah, this is all, the (Interstate and street) upgrades and everything, it’s going to be a good thing. In other words, the businesses on the spur are looking and preparing for the future,” Woodman said.
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