MILTON, Wis. - Gail Nordlof loves running a winery, but last year's final quarter was no reason to pop a cork and celebrate.
"We did the math and figured that we lost 26 percent of our business, our sales. That's a lot," Nordlof explained.
Nordlof said Northleaf Winery in Milton lost a quarter of its sales thanks to the Highway 26 bypass that opened up last fall.
"There was no other reason except the bypass," Nordlof said.
Nordlof said the route to Milton is not clearly marked off of the bypass. She has had customers call her from Fort Atkinson or Whitewater asking how they ended up there and not at her storefront.
On top of that, Nordlof said the chance for new customers is much slimmer since anyone driving the highway for the first time would barely know the city exists. The sign for the exit for Highway 59 and County Highway M, one of the main ways to get into town, doesn't list Milton as a destination.
"When we're on the interstate, we look for signage and we look for things like that, especially the gas signs, the attraction signs, the hotel signs, all of that sort of thing," Nordlof said. "And that's what we follow. That's why we get off of the interstate. That's why people would get off here."
Nordlof would like to see a designated Business 26 and clear signage guiding people into Milton.
"The more people we can drag into town off of the road, the better off we are," Nordlof said.
Tuesday evening, state legislators and representatives from the Department of Transportation held a public hearing for neighbors wanting to learn more about designating a Business 26 and voice their opinions on the bypass.
Among those leading the meeting was Sen. Tim Cullen, who represents the district Highway 26 goes through. He said even being familiar with the area, he gets frustrated driving the new road, and the signage for Milton isn't adequate.
Cullen said the DOT has agreed to put up better signage. He said the town of Milton, city of Milton, and Rock County have to approve a Business 26 before they can move forward with that designation since parts of that road would fall in those districts.
"This bypass could have been assigned better to start with, could have been more clear where Milton is, so we're kind of trying to fix it after the fact, but I believe we will," Cullen said.
Milton Mayor Brett Frazier said he would like to see a Business 26 designated within the next month. He said while sign changes and a business road would be immediate fixes to the problem, he would also like to see routine engineering reviews to ensure the roads are serving the public in the best way possible.
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