Wisconsin’s I-39/90 Expansion Moves Closer to Completion
Setting a New Standard: The I-39/90 Expansion Will Increase Capacity and Safety Standards in the Heavily-Traveled Area
Contractors have completed approximately two-thirds of the work on Wisconsin’s $1.2 billion Interstate 39/90 Expansion Project, designed to improve safety, increase capacity and bring the corridor up to today’s interstate standards.
“There are so many vehicles out there, we had to expand it,” says John Vesperman, I-39/90 Project Chief with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). “There were safety issues, with lots of crashes for many years that had to be mitigated.”
Additionally, the pavement had started to deteriorate, and the road needed to be brought up to current standards. It was first built in the 1960s, when far fewer vehicles were traveling the corridor.
Currently about 50,000 vehicles drive on I-39/90 daily, with surges to more than 70,000 vehicles per day in the summer when tourism traffic to the Wisconsin Dells boosts traffic. Trucks make up about 30 percent of volume. Traffic counts are expected to increase to 90,000 vehicles per day by 2040.
Performance-Based Practical Design
Wisconsin DOT has spent about $800 million so far on the project. Over $300 million in work is currently under way and $100 million remains to be let. The department expects to let that last contract for the I-39/90 interchange with U.S. 12/18 in June 2020, which will include changing a left exit to a right exit.
“One of the coolest things about that interchange is that it’s the greatest example of performance-based practical design,” Vesperman says. Performance-based practical design is a Federal Highway Administration approach.
“We identified 16 high-crash safety locations with operational issues,” Vesperman continues. “Instead of building the whole interchange for hundreds of millions of dollars, we came up with a solution that costs $100 million and will last for 20 years.”
The department decided to leave two of the loop ramps, those with the lowest volume and fewest accidents, which saved the department “significant amounts of money,” Vesperman says.
Funding for the project included a $40 million federal grant as part of the Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) program in 2016 to support and accelerate construction by two years of a 4-mile segment of Interstate near Janesville between WIS 11/Avalon Road and U.S. 14.
Steve Theisen, Spokesman for WisDOT, reports that this section of the corridor is a heavily traveled section with many drivers using the interstate as a local commuter route between interchanges. It also handles a significant amount of truck traffic, transporting goods to and from Janesville.
The prime design consultants include Dane Partners of Madison; KL Engineering of Madison; and AECOM, with offices in Middleton and Milwaukee. During the design phase, engineers had to plan for the several types of soil conditions along the stretch of road.
Crews have completed 20 miles of the 45-mile project, from the Rock River Bridges to south of U.S. 12/18 near Madison. Between 2013 and 2019, the work included adding a lane in each direction; building 93 bridges; adding 56 sign structures; laying more than 4.1 million yards of base aggregate, 1.75 million square yards of concrete pavement and more than 18,300 cubic yards of high-performance concrete for the structures; building 43 retaining walls; and installing 34 box culverts.
Among the completed features is Wisconsin’s first diverging diamond interchange (DDI), which Vesperman says has been “working great.”
Wisconsin DOT has developed a corridor management team to oversee all construction activity including coordination among the prime contractors and nearly 300 subcontractors working on the project.
Five of the prime contractors include Hoffman Construction Companies of Black River Falls, Wisconsin; Rock Road Companies of Janesville, Wisconsin; Zenith Tech of Waukesha, Wisconsin; Lunda Construction Co. of Black River Falls, Wisconsin; and Trierweiler Construction & Supply Co. of Marshfield, Wisconsin.
The project has had less than 1 percent construction change orders, which Vesperman attributes to collaboration.
“There’s a lot of communication that happens between the design and construction teams, with significant oversight from WisDOT staff,” Vesperman says. “We have tight program controls.”
The department uses a change-management process, during which the team and members of the design and construction teams discuss the requested change and work to identify ways to adjust schedules and processes to improve efficiency.
Additionally, the department offers a cost reduction incentive, which has saved more than $1 million on the project. WisDOT employees and contractors can offer better solutions. If the contractor makes the suggestion and it’s accepted, the department shares the savings with the company.
As an example, a construction team suggested eliminating a stage outlined by the designer. In addition to saving dollars, it shaved about five months off the schedule. Vesperman credits the collaboration with contractors and local authorities with making this a successful project.
Some of the corridor runs through prime farmland. To reduce the amount of land taken, Wisconsin DOT decided to dig down and build infiltration basins in the ditches.
The contractors are using GPS automated grading and paving equipment, using stringless paving techniques. “This is one of the earliest big contracts in Wisconsin to do that,” Vesperman says.
A 650-ton crane recently was used to set the 26 beams for a bridge spanning over a creek and railroad tracks in Beloit. The crane was assembled on site.
A six-lane DDI is under construction at Highway 26 in Janesville and another four-lane DDI at the city of Beloit.
“Both are part of a bigger project,” Vesperman says. “They are about $120 million each for the construction contracts.”
Throughout the project, the department has kept businesses and residents informed about the construction through a project website, email updates and a Facebook page. “Steven’s efforts in public involvement on this project are second to none,” Vesperman says.
Wisconsin worked closely with first responders, keeping them aware of the construction schedule and sequencing and informing them about the best way to reach a crash site in the work zones.
“If there were areas with amorgate barrier walls, they could open the median barrier wall and travel against the flow of traffic, blocked from the other direction,” Theisen says. “The response time was more efficient.”
The department also created a safety video to educate all workers in the field about best practices, and it conducts safety audits. If anything is of concern, the auditor takes it up with the contractor.
The project is ahead of schedule and on track to finish by the end of 2021, two more construction seasons. “A positive team gets a whole lot done successfully, and that’s what we have here,” Vesperman concludes.