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DOT plans to close local travel center

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River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
715-386-9891 customer support
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Unless something changes over the next few months, the Wisconsin Travel Information Center in Hudson will close on May 1.

Since 1995, the center has been managed by Sonja Johnson of Hudson. She said the Department of Transportation, which operates the centers, has proposed closing 50 "waysides" like Hudson in an effort to deal with budget shortfalls.

According to Johnson, the DOT cites the relatively low volume of traffic that stops at Hudson as the main reason it is being considered for close. Located at 2221 Crest View Drive, it also sits on land that could potentially be developed commercially.

According to Johnson's records, the Hudson travel staff had contact with 35,000 visitors in 2003. The center offers more than 800 publications and maps for free distribution about destinations in Wisconsin. In addition the center provides restrooms, a playground and picnic area, weather and construction information, DNR hunting and fishing licenses, free travel routing and information on lodging and events of special interest.

Since the DOT announcement, forces opposing the move are mobilizing. State legislators Kitty Rhoades and Sheila Harsdorf recently attended a meeting that included the state tourism secretary, a representative of the DOT and other officials to come up with an alternate plan to closing the center.

Johnson said the Department of Tourism is looking into taking over the travel information centers from the DOT. She also said that the tourism department is contacting representatives from tourism businesses in the area to come up with a proposal that will keep a travel center in St. Croix County if not in Hudson. The DOT has asked that any alternative proposal be to them by April 1.

Hudson Mayor Jack Breault said he voiced his opposition to closing the center to Congressman Russ Feingold during his recent visit to Hudson. Feingold told Breault he would speak to Gov. Jim Doyle about the issue. The mayor said he has been in contact with the DOT and the Department of Tourism in an effort to keep the Hudson center open.

Vance Hasemeyer of the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau said the organization opposes closing the center and through their public affairs committee led by Mark Gherty are making that opposition known to the DOT, the Department of Tourism and the state legislature.

Breault did say that if the DOT plans on selling the property on Crest View Drive, they should know that the city might not agree to any further development on the property because of the already heavy traffic congestion in the area.

"If they sell, they better get a contingency that spells that out because that's an issue we would definitely consider," Breault said.

The DOT has complained that the Hudson center is expensive to run because of snowplowing and janitorial expenses. Breault said he has suggested that the city might consider taking over those expenses and paying for them with room tax dollars. He also suggested that cutting down some trees on the approach to the center might improve volume at it since it is difficult to see the facility from the freeway.

Said Breault, "This is an important issue to Hudson and we will do all we can to keep it open."

In 1972 a permanent facility for travel information was built in Hudson. In 1993, the facility lost its direct freeway access and was completely refurbished with additional signage in an effort to draw contacts via the new access on Crest View Drive.

For more information about the plans for the information center at Hudson, contact Johnson at sjohnson@travelwisconsin.com. To reach Mayor Jack Breault call (715) 386-4765.

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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