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Case Study - Wisconsin

Taliesin National Historic Landmark. Context Sensitive Highway Safety Improvements on STH 23 near Spring Green.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is considering funding proposed safety improvements along State Trunk Highway (STH) 23 between the Wisconsin River Bridge and Lower Wyoming Road. Proposed changes will include milling and overlay of existing asphalt surface, replacing existing concrete barrier ends at three bridges along the project corridor, and replacement of beam guard at the south end of the Wisconsin River Bridge. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), the project proponent, also proposes to replace signage along the corridor to meet current standards.

Two historic properties along the STH 23 corridor were considered in the Section 106 review process. The Wyoming Methodist Church and Meeting Hall is a two-story Queen Anne Style frame structure built in 1902, significant for its architecture and association with religion. The property is still in use and is located on STH 23 at the bridge over Rush Creek.

Part of the project passes through the historic boundary of the Taliesin National Historic Landmark (NHL). An NHL is a nationally significant historic place designated by the secretary of the Interior due to its exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Taliesin was the home, workshop, laboratory, and retreat for one of the world’s most renowned architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. Its historic boundary encompasses 490 acres, including the main house and studio, Hillside Home School, Midway Farm Buildings, other buildings and structures, and the rural landscape that includes rolling hills that complement the complex of historic buildings. The Taliesen property is managed by Taliesin Preservation, Inc., a non-profit organization responsible for maintaining the historic site and operating tours out of a visitor center on the property. A World Heritage Site nomination is under development for Frank Lloyd Wright properties, including Taliesin.

In April 2012, FHWA and WisDOT initiated consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), the National Park Service (NPS), and Taliesin Preservation, Inc., and others to discuss the potential effects of the project on Taliesin and the Wyoming Methodist Church and Meeting Hall. The NPS’s involvement was requested because of its oversight role for NHL properties. Upon learning of the proposed changes to guardrails and signage along the route, both NPS and SHPO expressed concerns about the impacts of such improvements on the visual qualities of the NHL.

In June, 2012, FHWA invited the ACHP to participate in consultation to assist with resolving the concerns of NPS and SHPO, and seek ways to assure avoidance of adverse effects to the two historic properties in the area of potential effects. Because of the special status of NHLs, federal agencies are required, “to the maximum extent possible, undertake such planning and actions as may be necessary to minimize harm to any NHL” and invite the ACHP’s involvement in consultation (NHPA Section 110[f]). From FHWA’s perspective, the proposed changes would not alter views from the main house and studio, because the highway and proposed new guide rails would be some distance from the historic buildings and the view obscured by vegetation. NPS and SHPO did not agree. NPS felt it critical that WisDOT should avoid any changes to the highway corridor that might jeopardize the World Heritage Site nomination.

Over the next 21 months, WisDOT and FHWA hosted a series of meetings with the consulting parties, discussing every aspect of the proposed project. At the request of consulting parties, WisDOT considered reducing the speed limit on STH23 to allow for shorter and less visible guard rails and attenuators. Several guard rail designs were considered. WisDOT agreed to repave within the current highway footprint, leaving the shoulders unpaved. The parties agreed on guardrails and end treatment that will minimize the visual impact to travelers on SHT 23. Rather than using the industry standard (a yellow and black tigerboard), FHWA agreed to allow WisDOT to use a less obtrusive, solid yellow end treatment for the project. Vegetative screening, minimizing signage, and the use of a painted beam guard rail also contributed to the avoidance of ┬áimpacts to both historic sites. In addition, WisDOT agreed to conduct a speed study of the project corridor one year after Taliesin receives World Heritage Status (to determine the feasibility of reducing the speed limit), and to install five directional signs in the vicinity of STH 23 and Spring Green, directing traffic to the Taliesin NHL Site. In April 2014, the consulting parties all concurred in a finding of “no adverse effect” for the project.

Updated August 11, 2014

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