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WisDOT Widens U.S. 41 Stretch

A highway built before the Great Depression is finally getting an upgrade.

Thu April 25, 2013 - Midwest Edition
Dorinda Anderson

Widening a 31-mi. (50-km) stretch of U.S. Highway 41 between two counties in northeast Wisconsin will help address safety issues, ease congestion and provide a solution to solve the failing infrastructure issue.

Despite many updates and improvements over the years since constructed in 1926, U.S. 41 was no longer able to handle the traffic of this rapidly growing area. U.S. 41 is a 200-mi. (322-km) long highway connecting Chicago, Ill., southeastern Wisconsin, the Fox Valley and upper Michigan.

The areas connected by U.S. 41 represent 56 percent of the state’s population, 57 percent of the state’s manufacturing facilities, and 52 percent of Wisconsin’s retail and wholesale businesses. Counties that U.S. 41 runs through also account for $3.3 billion in tourism income each year, according to information from WisDOT.

Above average crash rates in Winnebago and Brown counties, 3,889 from 2003 through 2007 have occurred. The construction of 40 roundabouts, 24 in Brown County and 16 in Winnebago County, on this 31 mi. stretch are expected to help make U.S. 41 safer.

Roundabouts, circular intersections, are gaining popularity in the United States because they have been proven safer and provide more efficient traffic flow. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that roundabouts have fewer conflict points, meaning fewer opportunities for crashes. The insurance institute’s information states there are 90 percent fewer fatal crashes and 76 percent fewer crashes with injury because even though drivers must lower down to enter, roundabouts move traffic more efficiently through intersections because yielding at an entry point takes less time than stopping and waiting for a green light.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation also is completing environmental documentation to have U.S. 41 designated as an interstate corridor. For the process to become complete, Congress needs to change legislation to allow loads more than 80,000 lbs. (36,287 kg) to be hauled on the highway. "It may be 2014 before the designation is complete and then it will be considered an Interstate," said Michael King, construction supervisor, WisDOT, the Winnebago and Brown county work.

As one of Wisconsin’s largest ever road construction projects, this more than $1 trillion project began in 2009 by WisDOT and is expected to be completed in 2017. Construction work on the U.S. 41 project spans 17 mi. (27 km) of highway in Winnebago County at a cost of $336 million. Work began in 2009 and will be finished in 2016. Construction of another 14 mi. (22.5 km) in Brown County, at a cost of $698 million, began in 2010 and will be completed in 2017.

Four segments of the U.S. 41 Project received funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This funding provided the opportunity to advance work on these segments, revitalize the area and create job opportunities in Northeast Wisconsin.

Work includes roadway expansion from four to six or more traffic lanes; improvements to 16 interchanges, including 40 roundabouts; installation of 17 traffic cameras; widening the Lake Butte des Morts Causeway to eight lanes; and a bike/pedestrian trail across the lake with access for fishing.

Projects throughout Brown and Winnebago counties, through 2012 have required over 2.1 million hours of construction and are coordinated by WisDOT with more than 50 local officials, agencies and Native American tribes. When work is completed in Winnebago County 1.4 million sq. yds. (1.17 million sq m) of concrete will be placed, 30 retaining walls and 26 bridges will be constructed. In Brown County, when work is complete, 1.8 million sq. yds. (1.5 million sq m) of concrete will be placed, 90 retaining walls and 84 bridges will be constructed.

Throughout the U.S. 41 Project, WisDOT is incorporating community sensitive design process, which involves the aesthetic design of retaining walls, bridges, landscapes, and sound walls. Designs use colors and patterns that weave the transportation project into the community’s architectural, cultural, historical and environmental aesthetics, according to information from WisDOT.

In Brown County a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) assembled by WisDOT, recommended a design to reflect the county’s history of masonry structures using brick. WisDOT also is working with the Oneida Nation on future designs for various locations along U.S. 41 that will reflect the Oneida culture and history, information from WisDot states.

In Winnebago County the aesthetic design options for local bridges crossing U.S. 41 and mainline bridges crossing local roadways incorporate architectural concrete detailing, special fencing, stained concrete and landscape development in roundabouts.

A considerable amount of work was done and completed during the 2012 construction season with much more scheduled for 2013.

For example, in Winnebago County in June 2012 the U.S. 45 interchange was completed at a cost of $31 million. The interchange handles up to 18,000 vehicles each day.

Also, the $54 million WIS 21 and U.S. 41 interchange opened on October 29, three weeks ahead of schedule due to 75 to 80 degree weather last March, allowing crews to begin the construction season early, said Tom Buchholz, project manager with the WisDOT in Winnebago County. In addition to constructing the interchange, which passes over U.S. 41, crews constructed four roundabouts, and reconstructed and expanded U.S. 41 between Witzel Ave. and U.S. 45.

"Expedited work forces, multiple crews and good weather helped to meet that deadline ahead of time." King said. "If we said we needed a contractor on Tuesday they were there on Tuesday and ready to go. We had good working coordination’s with the contractors. There were many contractors on the projects; well over 50 with the prime contractors and the subcontractors."

In Brown County in 2012, after just six months of demolition and rebuilding the Mason Street interchange, the interchange was re-opened on July 28. The $29 million reconstruction project replaced the 46-year-old bridge over U.S. 41 and included the construction of three multi-lane roundabouts, the replacement of the 9th Street bridges and expansion of one mi. of U.S. 4, WisDOT information stated.

Also, the $57 million Main Avenue interchange and Main Avenue that travels under U.S. 41 was completed on Nov. 16. This project included reconstructing the interchange and expanding U.S. 41 to six lanes of traffic from Orange Lane to Glory Road. This $57 million project was completed on November 16.

There is still a huge portion of construction set for the future and in anticipation of this, considerable prep work will take place during the 2013 construction season.

In 2013 in Winebago County work will continue in three areas: the WIS 44 interchange, Lake Butte des Morts Causeway, and the north segment mainline expansion from U.S. 45 to Breezewood Lane. There will be no interchange closures in 2013 and traffic impacts to U.S. 41 end in July with the completion of the causeway.

The Lake Butte des Morts Causeway, which was originally opened in 1955, was identified as an opportunity to celebrate the culture and history of the state’s diverse Native American tribes. WisDOT received input from the 11 federally recognized Native American tribes of Wisconsin.

The causeway will include a pedestrian walkway, lakeside overlooks and kiosks that reflect each tribe’s story. Designs on each bridge span of the causeway will celebrate earth, fire and water — valued elements of each tribe’s culture. Piers supporting the causeway will depict the native rice beds, the spring of life and the fisheries of Lake Butte des Morts, WisDOT information states. A causeway is a raised roadway over a wetlands that is close to the surface of the wetlands so travel is not possible beneath it.

Expanding the width of the causeway from four lanes to eight lanes will help improve safety and mobility. The existing structure is being widened to the west. The eight lanes will include three through-lanes and an auxiliary lane in each direction to address issues with blowing and drifting snow. Lighting will now span the entire causeway, and a bicycle/pedestrian recreational trail will cross the causeway east of the northbound lane. Fishing access also will be possible from one side of the causeway on Lake Butte des Morts.

Prime contractor of the causeway, Lunda Construction, of Black River Falls, Wis., built a temporary road to a dock wall to served as an area for loading and unloading of equipment. Eight to 10 barges were in operation while working on construction of the causeway, Buchholz said. Cranes of 100 tons (91 t), 90 tons (82 t) and 165 tons (150 t) were used. Backhoes and several dozers were needed along with 20 to 30 trucks to haul materials.

Work on the causeway began with demolition that took place in two phases. In early August, 2012, crews blasted the old Butte des Morts bridge piers. Removal of the debris constituted the second phases, with completion occurring on Sept. 25, 2012. "Dynamite was used to demolish the remaining peers. We shut down U.S. 41 at night and made sure there was no boat traffic. We worked with the Department of Natural Resources and determined that some materials, like concrete, was allowed to fall into the water and be left there for future habitat," Buchholz said. But other materials like steel had to be removed from the water.

To expedite the progress on U.S. 41, night work was incorporated during various stages. Night work was incorporated during the demolition of the bridge, placing girders over the freeway, while grading where a lane closure was required and for asphalt paving, Buchholz said.

"The only thing we didn’t work on at night was the concrete paving. Whenever we needed to reduce to one lane we did the work at night; and when moving from old to new pavement we like to make that change at night so traffic is moved to a different surface the next day," he said.

In 2013 in Brown County work will continue on the Wisconsin 29 Interchange and will begin on several other projects. For example, Hansen Road overpass will be under construction from August 2013 to September 2014, early structures and filling work will start on the I-43 interchange, and the Lineville Road interchange will be under construction. Mainline construction will be in full swing with nearly all of U.S. 41 in Brown County either completed or under construction by late 2013, according to information from WisDOT.

WIS 29 in Brown County is currently being reconstructed between County J and Taylor Street concurrently with the U.S. 41 construction. The U.S. 41/WIS 29 interchange is being improved to a multi-level systems interchange with free-flow directional ramps connecting U.S. 41 and WIS 29. WIS 29 and U.S. 41 are both backbone routes within the state transportation system, according to WisDot information.

"The Interchange previously was a diamond with 4 lanes on U.S. 41 and 4 lanes on WIS 29 with another side street under U.S. 41," King said. "The multi level, system to system interchange to WIS 29 to U.S. 41 and vice versa separates those who want to get off at WIS 29 so they can get off at a lower level, while the other traffic remains on two higher levels."

Construction of the multi-level interchange system will include construction of a collector-distributor (C-D) roadway for northbound and southbound U.S. 41 traffic between Mason Street and WIS 29. The C-D roadway is a separate roadway paralleling the mainline U.S. 41 to help provide efficient traffic flow between the closely spaced Mason Street and WIS 29 interchanges.

The interchange also will include construction multi-lane roundabouts at the U.S. 41/Shawano Avenue service ramps, and at County RK, Packerland Drive and Shawano Avenue; and, reconstruction of the Shawano Avenue interchange will include new flyover ramps connecting U.S. 41 to WIS 29.

On the WIS 29/U.S. 41 interchange, prime contractor Hoffman Construction of Black River Falls, Wis., has completed the Shawano Avenue/Taylor Street roundabout, the newly-aligned Shawano Avenue and Packerland Drive ramps, and continues to work on the WIS 29 mainline (Packerland Drive to U.S. 41), which is scheduled for completion in April 2014.

Work on the WIS 29 interchange is expected to be completed in late 2014.

Throughout the 31 mi. (50 km) of U.S. 41 work, crews incorporated techniques that are new in northeast Wisconsin, such as placing an asphalt base under concrete to extend the life of the concrete. The asphalt base is 3 in. (7.6 cm) thick and is topped with 11 in. (28 cm) of concrete. The asphalt helps with heavy loads and creates a better platform for a smoother ride.

The corridor also has many retaining walls that are being placed in areas of very tight right-of-way. "We don’t want to purchase more right of way and the walls were used to lessen the impact to area businesses," King said.

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