The final piece of the decade-long County Hwy. M upgrade is entering its final year.

Over the past year, contractors began working along the sides of M and tearing up part of the intersection at County Hwy. PD to prepare for the last stage of expansion of the 150-year-old country road to a four-lane, divided urban road with a sidewalk, terrace and curbs.

The 14-month, $55 million project started in September 2017 and has a contracted end date of November 2019. Previous stages started construction in 2010 (Pleasant View roundabouts) and 2015 (County Hwys. M and S, aka Mineral Point and Junction roads).

The fix seemed urgent enough in 2007, when Dane County raised its priority level, and traffic has gotten steadily worse with the addition of thousands more Epic employees at its massive west Verona campus, and it continues to compete with the much larger Verona Road project in terms of rerouting traffic.

“The road is a parking lot every day,” Theran Jacobson observed while discussing the project with the Press this week. “This is going to be a significant improvement at the end. It is going to be great for traffic flow, traffic safety, pedestrian mobility, operational efficiencies (and) emergency response times.”

So far, most of the work on the third leg of M – called Prairie Hill to Cross Country – has been outside of the existing lanes – excavating, grading, laying base material and utility lines, pouring asphalt in some areas and starting work on the tunnel that will go under the road at PD.

For the remaining couple of months in this year’s construction season, crews will continue that work moving further south toward and past PD, with the expectation of having drivers switch to the newly built lanes before the snow flies.

Next spring begins Stage 3, tearing out the existing road where traffic has been routed for the past several months and laying new infrastructure there, as well as building the bridges that will go over the tunnel at PD.

A year ago, the project was just beginning (and was estimated at $46 million). The Five Points intersection turned into four with the closure of the Raymond Road connection, utilities were still being relocated and filler material was being piled up for the bridge over PD.

Now, with the new lanes being finished, the experience will be similar over the next year for drivers, though the path will be “kind of like a snake,” Jacobson said, moving from east to west and back east and then back west. It will continue to be one lane in each direction with occasional weekend closures, but other than one “blitz closure” of about two weeks for traffic driving east on PD, there should be no other reductions in lanes during the week, he said.

With 10,000 people driving to Epic every day, that’s a necessity.

After that closure, drivers will still be on only part of the new intersection. The full intersection will have double left-turn and right-turn lanes in addition to the east-to-west tunnel that will provide nonstop traffic flow.

Message boards will continue to keep people updated, Jacobson said.

The city’s share of the project, when all is said and done, will be about $8.5 million, including about $1.3 million in land acquisition that was completed in June 2017. It’s part of an overall project of M that, including federal funds, will end up costing close to $100 million.

This year’s persistent rains and flooding have slowed the project, Jacobson said, but that is not expected to affect its end date and hasn’t “modified their critical path severely.” Should next year be like this year, the contractor could need to bring in more resources, which could affect the project’s bottom line.

“The rain we’ve gotten this year has definitely changed things,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of the ‘float’ that was built into the schedule.”

For anyone interested in following the project in more detail, project managers are holding meetings at the Epic Annex building on the first Thursday of each month.

The project is also connected to, though separate from, Verona’s plans to expand County Hwy. PD to four lanes to Northern Lights. The city completed the Northern Lights intersection last summer and was planning to work on the rest of PD this year, but pushed it back to next year.

Email Verona Press editor Jim Ferolie at veronapress@wcinet.com.