FITCHBURG, Wis. -

About 25 people -- more importantly about 25 drivers who have to grin and bear the Beltline -- were among the first in the general public to talk about improving the road with the Department of Transportation.

The DOT's Madison Beltline study project manager Larry Barta was on hand, hoping these meetings will help solidify plans for revamping the highway over the next decade or so. The fixes would be focused on the road from Highway 14 in Middleton, 20 miles down the Beltline to County N in Cottage Grove.

"Right now, we're making sure we have the issues correct," Barta said.

Barta said he understands some of the issues are straightforward, but solutions aren’t so simple.

"We know we have some crash issues on the beltline," Barta said. "We know that it gets very congested out there in the a.m. and p.m. rush hours."

DOT statistics report an average of 470 crashes on the Beltline every year between 2008 and 2012. On top of that, the section between Verona Road and highway 151 scores an F by national standards.

"A lot of agreement that, yes, it's time to do something and improve conditions out there. Exactly what, there's no real consensus," Barta explained.

Barta explained this is the first meeting within the first of two studies of a four-step process. The items presented at Monday night’s meeting were preliminary plans, but the timing is more concrete. Barta said they hope to have the first study finished by 2015, and the second complete by 2020. He said there is no way to know how much any improvements would cost until more is decided about the project.

"Previous to this, we've been talking with state and local agencies, federal agencies, as well as representatives of the other local communities in the area that might be affected by the outcomes," Barta said.

Barta said the DOT has already tossed around ideas for adding lanes and improving side roads in hopes of diverting traffic from the Beltline to those streets.

This was the first of five meetings the DOT is hosting for public input. The other meetings will be held at the following dates, locations, and times, and presentations are at 6:00 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. each of these nights:

Tuesday, Sept. 10
5:30 to 8 p.m.
Monona Community Center Main Hall
1011 Nichols Road, Monona

Wednesday, Sept. 18
5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Boys and Girls Club Gym
4619 Jenewein Road, Madison

Thursday, Sept. 19
Westport Kennedy Admin. Building
5387 Mary Kale Road, Waunakee

Monday, Sept. 23
5:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Middleton City Hall Council Chambers
7426 Hubbard Ave., Middleton