Highway Commissioner honored, has overseen countless projects

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Retired Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock recently was honored by the Wisconsin County Highway Association. Above are WCHA Executive Director Dan Fedderly, Dennis Pelock, WCHA President Jon Johnson and WCHA Conference Coordinator Gary Kennedy. (Photo submitted)

By Ted Pennekamp


Former Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock recently received recognition during the Wisconsin County Highway Association Winter Convention in Wisconsin Dells. Pelock was honored for his contributions to the Highway Association and for his many years of service to Crawford County.

“I feel good about what I’ve accomplished. It’s been a really challenging career and a rewarding career,” said Dennis. “I truly enjoyed my nearly 30 years with the department as an operator/patrolman, foreman and commissioner. It has been a great challenge and opportunity to be part of and accomplish so many things during my years with Crawford County. I have been very lucky to have this opportunity and greatly appreciate many of the department’s employees both in the office and on the crew. Many of the employees have always had a special ability, diversity, and dedication and have truly taken pride in what they do for the department.”

Dennis said the Highway Department has seen many changes over the years and the challenges will always be there. “I feel I have had a unique endeavor that has given me the opportunity to become friends and develop relationships with so many individuals both on the work force and the general public,” he said.  

Working with the Department of Transportation, Natural Recourses, and Wisconsin Emergency Management, along with other agencies on projects and issues has been a very positive experience, said Dennis. The design consultant firms he has worked with have many very talented individuals and have assisted the county in many ways.  

Dennis said he has valued many of the friendships with some members of the county board and have been good friends with several of them for many years.

On the local level of government, Dennis said he especially appreciated the dedication of the many town chairmen and town supervisors. He valued having many of them as friends and of being able to be of assistance.

“As commissioner you become part of a very close knit group of individuals who have a very common goal,” said Dennis, who met monthly with six other commissioners in the Southwest District. All seven served on statewide Wisconsin County Highway Association committees that also met monthly at different locations statewide. Over the years, Dennis has served on the Training/Safety, Bridge Committee and the WCHA Board of Directors.

“I’ve met a lot of people who are really wonderful people,” said Dennis.

Upon his retirement, Dennis was the second senior commissioner in Wisconsin, having served as Crawford County Highway Commissioner for 22 years.

As commissioner, Dennis had numerous goals. The total funding applied for and received from 1997 to 2019 for road projects in Crawford County was $26.4 million. The estimated project cost total to improve county, town and village roads was $33.2 million.

Dennis completed many studies of high accident injury or fatality areas on the county highway system. The objective was to make improvements by reconstruction of these areas or installing guard rails, applying an abrasive seal coat surface to stop slide-off accidents and to implement other cures. 

“I feel good about the fact that accidents have been eliminated in these areas due to the improvements that were made,” said Dennis. Much of these improvements were accomplished using project funding through outside agencies and many projects were completed using local funds. “Safety improvements have been completed on at least 15 targeted areas on the county trunk highway system,” said Dennis. “One of the hardest phone calls I would get from the sheriff was to be notified of a fatality.”

Dennis said grants and funding have come primarily from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration for funding in the STP Rural and Urban Programs, Rural Bridge Program and the Local Roads Improvement Program.

A huge improvement while Dennis was commissioner was the relocation of the Highway Department Building from a structure built in the 1950s in Gays Mills to the new facility along Highway 27 near Seneca in 2003. The facility in Gays Mills was flooded a lot over the years.

The county bonded for the project along with bonding for the new Administration Building in Prairie du Chien. The highway facilities project upon completion was $200,000 under budget.

Several federal and state agencies provided great assistance in the relocation of the Highway Department facilities from the flood plain of the Kickapoo River to its present location, Dennis said.

All the hazard mitigation projects that were approved by Wisconsin Emergency Management statewide were reviewed and rated by FEMA five years after their completion. Out of all the projects approved and completed, the relocation of the Crawford County Highway facilities was rated number one statewide and showed a cost benefit to the county of over 900%. “It truly provided a much more efficient and positive effect on the response to natural disasters and the needs of the public,” said Dennis.

Dennis noted that numerous federal, state and local agencies and departments were also instrumental in helping Crawford County recover from several big Kickapoo River floods over the years.

“Flooding seems to have become normal as we have been experiencing 100 and 500-year flood events every three to five years,” said Dennis. “We have become better prepared to respond to events as they occur.” 

Dennis also gave credit to the Ho-Chunk Nation who have been very generous in funding one on of the county’s safety projects on County C by providing $440,000 for design and construction.  While he was commissioner, the county and the Ho-Chunk Nation entered into an agreement establishing parts of County C and County B as Ho-Chunk Reservation Roads. This made these segments of county roads eligible for funding through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The town of Freeman also has some of their town roads designated and is also eligible for project funding. “The Ho-Chunk Highway Division is a great group of individuals to work with,” said Dennis.

Another unique source of funding has been the Federal Land Access Program (FLAP) which provided much of the funding for the Famechon Hill Reconstruction recently completed on County N.  It is a very competitive program that provides funding to highways that lead to federal lands. County N was eligible due to the fact it provides direct access to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, Corps of Engineers facilities and the Effigy Mounds National Monument.

Dennis said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) was one of the most competitive project programs that the county worked very hard on in the writing of the grant application and working with elected representatives and their staffs on the federal and state levels.

After the election of President Obama, said Dennis, Congress passed a bill and was signed by the president that provided $48 billion for highway projects and transportation needs nationwide. These projects were funded at 100% and the projects needed to be designed and ready for construction. The design on the County B Hill Project for the reconstruction of two miles from Highway 35 to Rutter Hill Road was started four years earlier and was near completion. For this project, the county was approved and received $3.9 million for construction and project oversight. At the same time, Dennis  was overseeing the design of two bridges on Rush Creek Road and Buck Creek Road in the town of Freeman and also submitted an application to the ARRA Program for their design and construction.  

“We were also successful in receiving and additional $725,000 to build those bridges,” said Dennis. “Crawford County and the town of Freeman greatly benefited from the ARRA Program and it was a great feeling to play such a large part in these projects for Crawford County.”

Numerous other projects have been conducted while Dennis was commissioner. State Trunk Highway System projects have included reconstruction and 3R rehabilitation projects on Highway 60 (Wauzeka to Boscobel), Highway 61 (Boscobel to Vernon County), Highway 35 (PdC to County N), Highway 27 (PdC to Eastman), Highway 171, (Highway 35 to Mt. Sterling), Highway 179, (Eastman to Steuben), Highway 27, (Eastman to Mt. Sterling) and the US Highway 18 project that constructed the new bi-pass from the Tourist Information Center to Highway 35 along with the new four-lane project from La Point Street to Grant County. “Many local citizens and I worked with the DOT on a nearly two-year transportation study and plan on the transportation needs of the Prairie du Chien area,” said Dennis. “The Highway 18 project was funded through the Major Highway Program and many people testified for approval of these funds before the representatives of the State Transportation Projects Commission and won approval for funding.”

Dennis noted that highway departments operate much like most businesses using a cost accounting system. A certain amount of funds are obtained through property taxes, and some is received from WisDOT from the states gas tax. The amount of gas tax revenue that the county receives from the WisDOT is based on a six-year average of monies spent or invested in the county trunk highway system. The major part of operating funds is earned revenue for labor, equipment and materials for work performed by county forces for the state, towns, villages or other agencies.

Dennis said that over the past 22 years, almost every county road has had a reconstruction or 3R rehabilitation project done on all or part of them. All 266 lane miles have received work, whether it was new asphalt resurfacing, an asphalt cap and wedge, or seal coat and chips.

There have been various bridge incidents over the years that the Crawford County Highway Department worked on involving the Highway 18 Bridge and the Highway 82 entrance to the bridge to Lansing. 

In addition, fifty-five bridges in Crawford County have been replaced from 1998 to 2019 on county, village and town roads.

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