West Allis — "I guess we're getting our lemonade out of lemons," said West Allis Alderman Michael May after a meeting with state officials on a hill of dirt commonly referred to as Mount Stallis.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation piled the dirt at the 84th Street ramps to Interstate 894/US 45 at Greenfield Avenue. It's dirt that was dug up as part of the massive Zoo Interchange rehabilitation project.
City officials were dismayed when they learned the heap was there to stay. But DOT officials said it was not just a handy place to pile up dirt and save money for the project but also a good sound barrier for the neighborhood behind it.
But what local officials see as an unsightly hill could actually become attractive, May said. In a meeting with DOT officials last week, they agreed to shave five feet off the top of the mound, make it less steep, put in a decorative retaining wall and allow the city to install a historic West Allis emblem on the wall, possibly with some lighting. The DOT will plant grass and ornamental trees, also.
"I'm content with the way things turned out," said West Allis Mayor Dan Devine who helped negotiate a plan with the DOT. "Ultimately, it will look pretty nice," he said, and be an attractive entry to the city for people going to events at the Wisconsin State Fair grounds nearby on Greenfield Avenue.
The final plans still have to be firmed up, however, and officials won't celebrate until everything is done.
"Who knows what can change between now and next fall," May said. Plans are only conceptual and are being drawn up in more detail.
Reshaping of the hill and planting of grass and most trees would happen this summer. The wall and other decorative features should be done by fall of 2015, he said.
The DOT gave the local officials a choice of a curved or straight retaining wall, and a curved one was the clear standout.
"Aesthetically it's more appealing — organic as opposed to engineered," May said.
Drivers headed east on Greenfield would see the West Allis emblem that would be embedded in the curved portion of the wall facing eastbound traffic, he said.
All along, the DOT had planned to plant grass and shrubs but have now agreed to plant ornamental trees rather than the more common varieties, May said.
"It was always a work in progress," said Michael Pyritz, communication specialist for the DOT southeastern Wisconsin region. The DOT wanted to make sure it was appropriate and would fit in with the area and stay within the project budget, Pyritz said.
"The DOT has been cooperative," May said.
In the negotiations, local officials stressed that it would be an entry feature for the city.
"I said it was a matter of taking it and making the entry feature something we can be proud of," May said.
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