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Activity Brewing on Marquette Interchange

Thu March 30, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Dick Rohland



Looking at an aerial photograph of the Marquette Interchange located in Milwaukee, WI, the weaving set of roads, ramps and bridges resembles a pile of spaghetti.

The original workers deserve a standing ovation for designing and building this multi-level series of roads, ramps and bridges that curve up, over and under each other.

What’s even more fascinating and amazing is that this interchange is now under going a complete overhaul.

Every piece of concrete and steel that make up the structures, roads and ramps in this geometric tangle is now being demolished and reconstructed, all under traffic conditions.

Besides a doubling of traffic volume from the original design capacity in less than 30 years, the driving forces for the interchange reconstruction include general deterioration of the pavement and structures and eliminating left hand, single lane ramps, an out-dated and awkward design feature.

Originally completed in 1968 at a cost of $33 million, the reconstruction has been budgeted for $810 million.

Funding is split approximately at 55 percent federal, 45 percent state government. Following approximately a decade in planning and securing funds, the Marquette Interchange began reconstruction in 2004 and is due for completion in 2008.

The primary contractors for the project is a partnership of three firms known as Marquette Constructors LLC.

The lead companies in the partnership are Lunda Construction, with three offices in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota; Kraemer & Sons, with a home office in Wisconsin and three others nation wide and Zenith Tech, with two Wisconsin offices.

In addition to the interchange work, Marquette crews will reconstruct a 2-mi. (3.2 km) stretch of I-94/I-794 running east of the interchange.

Also, 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) of I-43 running north of the interchange is under going a complete reconstruction. Walsh Construction Company of Chicago, IL, won the $102-million portion of the contract to reconstruct this road segment.

Located in downtown Milwaukee, the Marquette Interchange is one of WisDOT’s most valuable pieces of real estate. It links one-third of the state’s freeway traffic to the rest of the country and is Wisconsin’s busiest traffic hub, according to WisDOT officials.

WisDOT officials tout the interchange as the gateway to Wisconsin. The ribbons of economic commerce that make up the interchange “has paid back untold dividends as a transportation work horse and as an engine for economic development statewide,” according to WisDOT documents.

A summary of facts provided by WisDOT show that the original set of roads, ramps and bridges of the more than 300,000 vehicles per day (VPD), more than double the number called for in the original design.

It provides access to 37 percent of the state’s jobs and population in southeastern Wisconsin and another 24 percent to counties along Lake Michigan.

Further, the Marquette Interchange carries 7 million visitors annually to downtown festivals and attractions, and provides key access to tourist attractions in northeast Wisconsin, including Door County and Green Bay.

Marquette Constructors and its crews will demolish and reconstruct one bridge (Wisconsin Avenue) and all eight system ramps.

Many of the new ramps will carry two vehicle lanes and all traffic will merge from and exit to the right, according to Brian Manthey, communications officer with WisDOT. Seven of the ramps will be bridge structures.

The new interchange also will feature increased ramp spacing to eliminate lane weaving conflicts, more gradual ramp curves to improve sight distances and maintain constant speeds, and will have five levels, versus four for the current interchange.

Critical connector ramps in both directions at I-43 and I-94 will be increased to two lanes with longer merge lanes. And the elimination of the Clybourn Street/Michigan Avenue circle ramp will free up 6 acres (2.4 ha) for potential development.

“Some exits and entrances have been removed permanently to eliminate weaving and merging problems that were occuring to close to the core of the interchange,” Manthey said. “The interchange will have a 75-year life span and will use epoxy coated rebar to extend the life of the structures.”

Construction is staged, scheduled and coordinated to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction during peak traffic times.

“To accomplish this, temporary roadway has been built for eastbound traffic between the west-most limits and the core of the interchange,” Manthey explained. “We also implemented traffic switches where possible so that two lanes of traffic will share the same roadway.

“During 2005, all southbound I-43 traffic was shifted to the previous northbound roadway in each direction and separated by concrete barriers. In 2006, both directions of traffic will be carried on the newly-built southbound lanes while the northbound lanes are rebuilt.

Manthey said that the same traffic switch is occurring on the east-west portion of the interchange. Where that is not possible, temporary roadway has been constructed.

“Critical demolition and girder construction over traffic will happen at night when the freeway can be closed. Otherwise, most of the staging is really typical, half at a time construction; move traffic over, construct half of the project, switch traffic onto the new construction and build the other side,” added Scott Piefer, project manager of Zenith Tech.

Work began on reconstructing the interchange two years ago.

Since that time, Marquette workers constructed five temporary bridges and removed one bridge structure. The recently demolished bridge, which carried four lanes of traffic of Wisconsin Avenue over I-43, was a major thoroughfare in Milwaukee. It linked Marquette University to the business, commercial and entertainment districts of downtown Milwaukee.

The new bridge is scheduled for completion later this year and will still carry four lanes of traffic, estimated to be 20 to 25,000 vehicles per day.

However, the pedestrian walks will be widened and improved and complemented with brighter lighting. It also will be more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, Manthey said.

Beginning this year, Marquette Constructors will forge ahead into its construction schedule. According to Manthey, this small, congested and busy site of intersecting freeways, highways and ramps shooting traffic off to local streets will be a busy one.

“We are rebuilding the eastbound lanes and ramps of I-94/794 from 25th Street to the Milwaukee River,” Manthey said. And along with the new Wisconsin Avenue bridge, “We will also bring two new ramps online by the end of the year.”

The ramps that will open up are eastbound I-94 to southbound I-43 and northbound I-43 to Plankinton Avenue.

Brady Fredeick, Lunda project manager, cited some of the many construction challenges.

“This is the single largest highway project in the state of Wisconsin,” Frederick remarked. “It’s a very enormous, complex project. We don’t have access to a lot of spots during the day. We have to work at night and still maintain traffic control.”

Marquette crews had a very short time frame to remove the Wisconsin Avenue bridge.

“We took the Wisconsin Avenue bridge down at night. We started at nine at night and had to open the lanes the following morning by six,” Frederick said.

Frederick put a human perspective on the enormity and complexity of this project when he said, “the workers are working around 300,000 vehicles a day.” Further, “We’re in extreme site conditions. You have an urban environment. There is a lot of utilities, a lot of traffic, a lot of neighbors. So, its not the same as working on your own bridge site out in the middle of the country.”

The tight, congested site condition makes delivery and the scheduling of delivery very critical, Frederick said.

“We were locked into our delivery dates last August,” Frederick said. There will be so much steel delivered into this project that “we have half a capacity of a steel fabrication plant dedicated to this job over the next three years.”

Already, Marquette Constructors has approximately 35 cranes of all manufacturing types in and around the interchange.

Frederick expects to see hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment move in and out during the course of construction along with hundreds of workers to man the controls and excavate, pour and place construction material.

Overall project quantities include 200 tons (181 t) HMA perpetual Mainline asphalt, the majority to be used for the I-43 portion of the project, 400,000 cu. yd. (305,840 cu m) of concrete, 20,000 tons (18,000 t) of structural steel and 5 mi. (8 km) of retaining wall construction.

Along the I-43 portion of the work, Walsh crews and its subcontractors are approximately 75 percent completed with their portion of the work, Paul Bentley, assistant project manager said.

This work includes a total reconfiguration of the freeway with added lanes, nine bridge reconstructions, reconstruction or construction of 20-plus retaining walls. The road reconstruction includes a complete reconstruction of the Fond du Lac Interchange and a portion of Fond du Lac Avenue.

Additionally, approximately 200 ft. (61 m) of an existing tunnel bringing Kilbourn Street beneath the Milwaukee County courthouse was demolished and reconstructed by Walsh crews.

The tunnel had to be done to adjust the opening of the new I-43 northbound alignment, Bentley said. The tunnel is part of the northbound exit ramp from I-43 to Kilbourn Avenue East which runs under the courthouse.

“The exit ramp was closed during our reconstruction process, so traffic was not an issue,” Bentley explained. “We started the work during January 2005. Working in the winter slowed various activities of the job, but overall the construction moved pretty well.”

Auxiliary and support work includes boring 5,000 ft. (1,524 m) of storm sewer ranging 42 in. (107 m) to 72 in. (183 m) in. diameter. Approximately 3,000 ft. (914 m) of this sewer is 72 in. (183 cm) in diameter, according to Bentley.

“We also have over 75,000 feet of secant piling to perform for the retaining walls with diameters ranging 36 inches to 60 inches,” Bentley said.

Other quantities include 50,000 cu. yd. (38,230 cu m) of concrete, 8 million lb. (3,628,800 kg) of rebar, 800,000 lb. (362,880 kg) of structural steel girders and 115,000 tons (103,500 t) of asphalt.

Other than the inherent challenge of managing and maintaining two lanes of traffic throughout the reconstruction, scheduling has proven to be very interesting for Walsh and its subcontractors.

“Overall, this project is not linear in nature. There is a lot of structural elements, retaining walls, the bridges and the secant piling. The scheduling is very crucial as far as when you can be in certain areas,” Bentley explained.

The secant piling operations have proven to be an interesting challenge on their own, Bentley said.

“The variety of soils and subsurface conditions that exist have oftentimes been difficult to overcome. You can drill in one particular area and move 100 feet and have totally different soil,” Bentley explained.

Walsh Construction Company has brought on 39 sub-contractors to help with the variety of work ranging from drilling, piling, jet grouting, excavating to the paving and structural elements of this huge and complex road reconstruction project.

The project has had as many as seven Liebherr, Manitowoc, Link-Belt and Grove cranes on site. A dozen Caterpillar, Hitachi and Komatsu excavators have been digging throughout the project along with approximately a half dozen Caterpillar and John Deere dozers pushing dirt around.

WisDOT officials and Marquette Constructors expect to be completed with the interchange reconstruction by the end of 2008. CEG