West Allis — The pile of dirt that rose on Greenfield Avenue here as a result of Wisconsin Department of Transportation work on the Zoo Interchange can't be used for decorative solar panels, said Michael Pyritz, a state communications manager for the southeastern district.
Faced with the pile at the ramps to Interstate 894, West Allis officials brainstormed how what one alderman described as an eyesore might be turned into an attraction. Putting striking solar panels on the hill came out of that session.
But Pyritz said the sun's glare off solar panels would likely create a safety hazard. They would probably have to face south meaning they would face directly into oncoming freeway traffic, he said.
"Imagine the hazard of the reflection coming off onto the roadway," he said.
"It was just a concept," said Michael May, an alderman for the area. "If the answer is 'no' we'll take that."
It looks like the city will have to settle for the hill being planted with grass and trees. But May and other city officials met Monday with DOT representatives who seemed open to seeing if the pile also could be moved back somewhat from Greenfield Avenue to reduce the heap's visual impact along the busy thoroughfare.
There is some room in the back for dirt, May said, and neighbors don't seem to mind the looks of the pile because they like its noise deadening effect.
In fact, it was partly because of the noise dampening it would provide along with cost saving that made the DOT create the pile with dirt dug up in the interchange work, Pyritz said. The pile sits on DOT land beside the freeway providing not only a handy place to put the excess dirt that would be expensive to truck away, but would help be a shield from the freeway noise for homes and businesses, he said.
Earthen berms, which is what Pyritz calls the pile, are easier to maintain than noise walls, he said. The berm helps everybody, he said.
"When we recycle dirt it saves money on trucking so it helps reduce the cost of the project overall," Pyritz said.
If something can be done about the Greenfield Avenue side which is what is being complained about, that would be a help, May said. In addition to grass and trees, local officials learned there might be a possibility of public art going on the hill, he said.
So, he said, "Progress is being made."
Over the last couple of weeks, residents have come up with their own ideas for the heap that some neighbors have dubbed Mount Stallis. City officials feel that is unflattering and they call it Conrad Hill instead, after the Conrad neighborhood behind it.
The ideas that have come into the DOT or to May include using it as a sledding hill, having community gardens there, giving it to contractors who want topsoil or fill, putting a plaque on the top of it declaring how many feet above sea level the summit stands or planting a big WA on it, similar to the MKE planted in foliage at Mitchell Airport.
But the same problem dashes all of these ideas except the last and that is the lack of access to the hill, Pyritz said. It's on freeway right of way and the public is not allowed in the fenced off area, he said.
"It's important for people to know that it's not accessible," Pyritz said.
A company that does landscaping wanted to take it away, but Pyritz said it's not topsoil. It's clay and possibly contains some concrete, he said. It also might have petroleum contaminants, having been so close to freeway traffic for decades, he said.
Planting a big WA would push the limits of what the federal government allows on federal highway rights of way, Pyritz said. There is an MKE at the airport, but that took a lot of work and he advised against trying for a WA. It also would be hard to maintain, he said.
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