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Hectic Pace in Play as I-94 Construction Nears Completion

Fri June 11, 2010 - Midwest Edition
Dorinda Anderson

Reconstructing a 35-mi. (56.3 km) stretch of Interstate 94 in Southeast Wisconsin contains no unusual techniques, but it involves a heightened work schedule in order to complete each segment on time.

“This is nothing unique, just a lot of work with a lot of crews,” said Jay Obenberger, project manager with Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Southeast region. “It is the most impressive schedule we’ve done in DOT history in order to complete it in a 10-month period.”

The project runs from the Illinois state line to Mitchell Interchange and includes the WIS 119 Airport Spur to General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. There are 18 service interchanges within the Interstate 94 North-South Freeway project limits; 17 of those interchanges are being rebuilt, moving ramp exits to the right side of the freeway. The project is expected to improve safety, help ease congestion and modernize this transportation artery.

The highway will be reconstructed to expand capacity from three to four lanes in northbound and southbound directions, providing consistent inside and outside shoulders, constructing a paved median with a concrete barrier, and pushing out frontage roads in Kenosha and Racine counties. The project includes 17 local access interchanges that will receive design improvements.

The highway was first built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which today creates safety issues, pavement and design deficiencies and traffic congestion, DOT information said. Much of the corridor has been resurfaced three times. Additional resurfacings are not cost effective and will not address long-term pavement needs, according to the DOT.

Traffic counts for Wis/DOT’s in the corridor range from 74,400 vehicles daily in Kenosha County to more than 161,000 vehicles daily near Grange Avenue in Milwaukee County. The 1.5-mi. (2.4 km) WIS 119 airport spur carries about 26,800 vehicles daily, as well. Traffic counts have grown between 17 and 31 percent since 1994, with Kenosha County seeing the highest growth. About 1.3 million people, 28,500 businesses and 595,000 jobs are in these three counties combined.

Work began in 2009 with various phases of the 35-mi. corridor from Illinois to Southern Milwaukee County at the Mitchell interchange, and will continue through 2016. Current projects scheduled for completion from 2010 to 2012 total about $160 million and span three counties, Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee, from south to north, explained Ryan Luck, with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Southeast region.

“This project includes almost 70 miles, which includes some 30 miles on each side of the Interstate. It is huge,” Luck said.

Work in Kenosha County, which is on the southern edge of the project along Interstate 94, this year includes 4 mi. (6.4 km) of northbound Interstate 94. In 2009, the first year of this $60 million segment, the southbound portion of this highway segment was completed. In 2010, traffic was moved to the completed southbound section but was shifted from three lanes down to two lanes. Work will continue until December of this year, which includes highways C and 165. So far, this portion is on schedule and is going well, Luck said.

Just north, in Racine County, the second year of this $20 million project on County Highway G, work includes the construction of a new bridge over the freeway at Highway G and Frontage work on the east and west sides of the Interstate. Scissor ramps that cross-entering and exiting traffic with frontage road traffic in Racine and Kenosha counties will be redone. Vehicles already on the frontage road need to stop and wait for a clearing in vehicles exiting the freeway in order to continue.

“We have a scissors ramp where frontage road traffic crisscrosses with exit traffic, so we will separate that traffic and bump it out further east and further west to separate it from the interstate traffic to improve safety,” Luck said.

The entrance and exit ramps at County Highway G will be configured as a diamond interchange to eliminate the unsafe movements. The east and west frontage roads will be routed around current businesses and residences that are adjacent to the existing frontage road. The stream on the east side of Interstate 94 will be realigned. Storm water detention ponds are planned for the northwest and southeast quadrants of the interchange. Three quarters of a mile of interstate on the north and south sides also is included in the project. Traffic will be shifted to the completed southbound portion while work progresses on the northbound section. This phase should be completed in early fall.

Further north at State Highway 50, frontage road work on the east side of the interstate continues, as does a west frontage road project at Highway 141.

As the projects continue north on Interstate 94 to Milwaukee, a bid letting in January of $81 million created the start of work from Layton Avenue and Collector Distributor (CD) roads from College Avenue north to Howard Avenue, which is the northern limit of the 35-mi. corridor, Luck said. Beginning in mid-February, the bridge over Interstate 94, ramps, and Layton Avenue roadway were closed and will remain closed through fall 2010. Crews are reconstructing the Layton Avenue Bridge over Interstate 94, entrance and exit ramps, and the roadway from 13th Street to 20th Street.

In order to safely construct the new diamond configuration interchange, the northbound entrance ramp to I-94 and southbound exit ramp to Layton Avenue will remain closed until fall 2012. The diamond design will improve traffic operations on Layton Avenue between the northbound ramps and 13th Street. The existing southbound on-ramp intersection at 20th Street will be relocated to Layton Avenue

The bridge at Layton Avenue is a major artery with 32,000 vehicles a day crossing it; to handle the traffic while it is closed, crews built College Avenue in 2009 to handle the redirected traffic.

“We’re asking travelers to use that,” Luck said.

The Layton Avenue Bridge should be reopened by Labor Day. The bridge is on the outside of Interstate 94 so traffic won’t see much of an effect.

“We will work outside of the Interstate working on the CD and then later jump into the middle of the interstate and reconstruct that,” Luck said.

Crews also will work from College Avenue north to Mitchell, for three years. Work during 2010 will set the stage so the next two- year phase can be let, creating the three years, Luck said. Therefore, by 2010 crews will have redone the Interstate north of College Avenue. The College Avenue interchange will be reconstructed to a tight diamond interchange to handle more than 195,000 vehicles that travel it each day. This means that ramp connections with the cross street will be brought closer to Interstate 94. Doing this allows more space between the ramp and the adjacent cross streets — 13th Street and 20th Street —for better traffic operations. The existing park and ride lots at College Avenue also will also be reconstructed.

The Mitchell Interchange’s mix of left and right hand entrances/exits will be updated to handle traffic from the right. This will help to eliminate confusion and improve safety in the interchange.

Also being updated is the quick merging and weaving necessary at the 27th Street and airport exits. The existing interchange at 27th Street and Interstate 94 will be reconstructed from a half diamond interchange to a full diamond interchange. This interchange will be moved about a half-mile further north to avoid impacts to the Root River environmental corridor and will improve spacing with the Seven Mile Road interchange. It will be built with a connection to 27th Street.

One of the more significant changes is the rerouting of maneuvers to and from 27th Street and Interstate 94 south. Using the Layton Avenue interchange to access 27th street accommodates this maneuver. Also, a third lane is added on Interstate 94 (south of the Mitchell Interchange) to and from the I-894 bypass.

The Airport Spur interchange will be reconstructed in its existing configuration. The spur will be reconstructed to look like a parkway. Its new look will have either a grassy median with a curb or a barrier to look like a field stone wall. The outside edges of the spur will have a screening berm with landscaping.

“We are also building The Plainfield Curve [Interstate 43/94 near Howard Avenue], which has a compound curve where two curves were back to back. This was designed in the 1960’s. We would often see trucks turn over because of this abrupt curve,” Luck said. “We will redo that curve into one large circular curve and improve safety.”

The new curve will be designed to accommodate speeds up to 55 mph. This new section of roadway won’t be open until 2012.

Overall, the $81 million project includes 12 bridges, eight of which are brand new, 22 noise walls and standard retaining walls, and 14 retaining walls are MSC walls which consist of precast panels and eight or nine soldier piles, Obenberger explained. Four of the bridges will be painted and see some minor work.

Also included are about 5 mi. (8 km) of pavement, 7 mi. (11.2 km) of storm sewer, 200 manholes and 500 inlet structures, creating a cost of about $81 million, Obenberger explained.

“We’re averaging about 100 people a day right now working on this project.”

With the new roadway, Wis/DOT is seeking a longer design life of 75 years, Obenberger said. The new interstate will have a gravel base topped with 4 in. (10 cm) of asphalt, which will be topped with 1 ft. (30.5 cm) of concrete. Once that concrete starts to wear out, roughly a year later, explained Mark Bare, project manager with prime contractor Walsh Construction of Kenosha, Wis., a 2 in. (5 cm) asphalt overlay will be added.

“This helps with noise reduction, as well, and it can be easily milled off when it wears down so a new asphalt overlay can be added, which is more beneficial than reconstructing the pavement.”

Included in this project are about 120,000 tons (108,862 t) of asphalt, 50,000 cu. yds. (38,227 cu m) of roadway concrete, 20,000 cu. yds. (15,291 cu m) of structural concrete, and about 125,000 tons (113,398 t) of base aggregate.

By the time this $81 million portion of the project is complete, crews will move a half a million cu. yds. (382,277 cu m) of soil, place 150 yds. (137 m) of paving, use 3 million lbs. (1.3 million kg) of rebar and 4 million lbs. (1.8 million kg) of piling, Bare said.

Coal ash will be used for the construction and operation along the Interstate 94 North-South Corridor from the Wisconsin State Line north to State Highway 50, including County Highway C interchange and State Highway 165 Ramp Reconstruction from June 2009 until October 2010. Coal ash provides a significant contribution to sustainable construction by conserve natural aggregate materials for construction applications such as granular backfill road base structural fills, according to information from Wis/DOT.

There have been no weather issues to slow the project, so by early May, crews were in the staging process, working on access walls, building MSC and filling behind them, creating a barrier walls and capping the top of the wall, Obenberger said.

Even though the work is fairly routine using normal construction techniques, it does present some challenges. Many sound barrier walls are included on both side of the interstate, because of nearby neighborhoods and the airport.

“The project is in an area that has a lot of sound walls on both sides of the interstate because it is near the airport,” Luck said. “So we will work with residences while taking down the old walls and putting up new walls, all the while trying to minimize the interference with their back yards. This is a different type of challenge for us, working in an urban market, but we think we’re up to it. This provides a challenge in daily management of erosion control and safety.”

Fliers have been handed out to the community by WIS/DOT staff going door to door with the information.

“We have gotten good feedback from the public. They are very appreciative of what they are seeing so far,” Luck said. “It helps people to adjust when they know what is coming.”

After the 2012 deadline is met crews will work on landscaping and continue working their way south on the next portion of Interstate 94. Work will progress south to Racine; Planning on which intersection will be done when is still under way, Luck said.

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