Wisconsin DOT Continues Work on Massive I-41 Project
Work continues on the 31-mile, $966 million Interstate 41 project to add capacity, improve safety and reduce congestion along a crucial trade route in Wisconsin.
"The highway 41 corridor has seen more traffic than it can handle," says Mike King, I-41 Projects Group Construction Supervisor with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).
I-41 is a major route connecting Chicago with Wisconsin. It provides critical movements of goods and services. I-41 connects about 56 percent of the state's population and 57 percent of the state's manufacturing facilities. Additionally, counties along the route reap about $3.3 billion in annual tourism expenditures.
The project expands traffic lanes from four to six; paves to replace pavement placed in 1952 and 1974; rebuilds 13 interchanges and upgrades three others; adds 40 roundabouts; installs traffic cameras; and adds eight lanes to the Lake Butte des Morts Causeway. The new sections have bicycle and pedestrian lanes and are being built to current interstate highway design standards.
The rebuilding aims to improve safety. From 2007 to 2011, 4,256 crashes occurred on this stretch of I-41, with 24 fatalities. One safety feature being added is the roundabout. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that where roundabouts have replaced stop signs and traffic signals, crashes, fatalities and injuries have decreased.
The WisDOT divided the project into multiple contracts as money from the state and federal government became available. Four segments received funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. More than 80 contractors and 100 engineering firms have worked on the project. WisDOT set up many smaller contracts. The agency also made an effort to encourage disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) to participate on the project. It held several meetings with DBE contractors.
"Contractors are efficient at a certain type of construction," King explains. "We would break that out, and they could take that work on."
WisDOT also reached out the public, using a process called community sensitive solutions. That led to aesthetic designs on retaining walls, bridges and noise barriers that reflect the surrounding communities. Additionally, engineers left open spaces to link natural areas to the highway.
Projects in Multiple Counties
Work began in 2009 in Winnebago County and was completed in 2014. Projects in Winnebago County consumed 456,000 tons of asphalt, 1.4 million square yards of concrete pavement and 2.3 million tons of base/breaker material. Crews excavated about 2.4 million cubic yards of dirt.
Nearly everything on the project was recycled, including the pavement, aggregate and asphalts.
"They were broken, crushed and laid on site, which saved the contractors time and money," King says.
Projects in Brown County started in 2010 with the installation of wick drains to deal with the soft soils and are expected to complete in spring 2017. King indicates there is a chance all of the work will finish this fall, except for some frontage roads. In this county, the project has consumed 337,000 tons of asphalt, 1.8 million square yards of concrete and 3.4 million tons of base/breaker material. Crews have excavated 6.8 million cubic yards.
Still under way are the Velp Avenue and Interstate 43 interchanges and mainline widening. Access to I-43 from Velp Avenue along I-41 was removed in the fall of 2015 to reduce the weaving maneuvers drivers were making in the tight spacing. The new interchange has directional ramps and no loop ramps, with new bridges over Wietor Drive, I-43 and Duck Creek and roundabouts at Velp Avenue and Memorial Drive.
WisDOT decided to add roundabouts to many I-41 ramp terminals and local streets to improve safety and traffic flow. The centerpiece in the middle of the roundabout deflects traffic and forces drivers to slow down.
"Initially there was a lot of reluctance and hesitation from the traveling public to accept those," King says. "Now, with 37 of them constructed, the public has accepted them."
King thinks the public had to try the roundabouts and see how easy they were to navigate. Then positive word of mouth helped them gain favor to the point the WisDOT has people asking for roundabouts on other streets. WisDOT conducted a public outreach campaign, called "Take It Slow" with models and videos to educate people about how to use the roundabouts, including yielding to the left, not passing and choosing the right lane.
To build the roundabout, WisDOT in many cases closed intersections for 60 days, since they are difficult to construct with traffic flowing. The work must be carefully scheduled and planned to ensure crews can continue to pour concrete while not driving over the concrete that was recently poured.
Main Road Work
U.S. 41 had to stay open during construction. During daylight hours, WisDOT kept two lanes open, but at night, many times the entire corridor was down to a single lane in each direction.
The corridor has concrete pavement with an asphalt base. The bridges include tub girders, I-plate girders and prestressed concrete structures. About 30 million pounds of steel tubs were fabricated off site and brought to the site.
Two of the bridges were slid into place at the Highway 29 interchange. The decks were constructed adjacent to the final resting place of the bridges. Traffic was diverted off the highway, the abutments were constructed quickly and the bridges slid into place. Zenith Tech of Waukesha, Wisconsin, used a system of jacks and roller bearings to move the 4 million pound structures.
"It minimized the inconvenience to the traveling public," King says. "That was the first we have done slide in place in our region."
WisDOT also installed an intelligent transportation system with cameras, traffic sensors and message boards throughout the 31 miles. It has helped keep traffic flowing during construction.
"It allows us to see where the back ups are and then get emergency responders and a tow truck to clear the scene," King says. "It was great to get the cameras in place before construction began."
King said he is proud the project is 95 percent complete and has remained on budget. Change overs and overruns are tracking at less than 3 percent of let costs, which means the project will likely come in under budget.