Work continues on the $1.2 billion, 45-mile Interstate 39/90 Expansion Project in south-central Wisconsin as it tracks toward completion in 2021. The project will increase capacity, improve safety, modernize the highway to today’s standards, and enhance access to the state’s tourism centers.
“Without corrective action, studies conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) predicted future travelers would have experienced deteriorating driving conditions within the corridor, including significantly reduced speeds and worsening congestion,” says Steve Theisen, Spokesman for WisDOT.
In 2016, I-39/90 carried an average of more than 50,000 vehicles daily, but during the summer, with tourism traffic to the Wisconsin Dells and points further north, vehicle volumes along the corridor often exceeded 70,000 vehicles per day. By 2040, the traffic volume is projected to increase to between 60,000 and 80,000 vehicles per day. About 30 percent of the total traffic consists of heavy trucks.
“The number of crashes along I-39/90 between the Illinois state line and Madison have increased as travel volumes have grown,” Theisen says. “This trend was expected to continue if no improvements were made.”
Much of the project entails reconstructing and expanding I-39/90 from four to six lanes, three lanes in each direction; reconstructing and expanding the interstate to eight lanes, four lanes in each direction, from WIS 11 (Avalon Road) north to the WIS 26 interchange in Janesville, to accommodate projected traffic increases; reconstructing 11 interchanges; and replacing more than 100 bridges.
“Although the traveling public sees the entire 45-mile project as one work zone, there are roughly 50 plan sets for 25 let projects,” Theisen says.
The I-39/90 Project was one of 18 infrastructure projects across the country that received federal grants as part of the Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) program. The project received a $40 million federal FASTLANE grant in 2016 to support and accelerate by two years construction of a 4-mile segment of Interstate near Janesville between WIS 11 and U.S. 14.
“A wide range of commercial activity relies on this Interstate corridor,” Theisen says. “There are a lot of trucking companies transporting goods to, from and through the Janesville area, so it was good to get an earlier start to reconstructing this area thanks to the grant.”
Construction Along the Entire Route
“Starting this year, nearly all of the interstate within this project will have reconstruction activities taking place,” says Theisen. “The type and amount of work in one segment varies, depending on each year’s funding allocation.”
The project is divided into three segments – north, central and south – to make it more manageable, Theisen explains. WisDOT project managers lead each segment with support from the corridor management team, comprised of representatives from WisDOT, consultants and Federal Highway Administration. The prime consultants for design include Dane Partners of Madison, KL Engineering of Madison, and AECOM, with offices in Middleton and Milwaukee.
“This multi-team approach keeps the project more manageable, provides consistency and allows the individual teams to focus on specific areas and concerns,” Theisen says. “We have a great team working on the I-39/90 project.”
WisDOT began design in 2012 and made improvements to alternate routes on highways adjacent to I-39/90, and reconstructed the WIS 11 (Racine Street) interchange in Janesville prior to work starting on the Interstate project. The department also completed temporary widening on I-39/90 to ensure two lanes of traffic could flow in both directions while the mainline was reconstructed and expanded. Although the temporary pavement was asphalt, the majority of the pavement will be concrete when completed.
I-39/90 reconstruction and interchange reconfiguration work began in 2015. In 2016, WisDOT opened its first diverging diamond interchange (DDI) south of Janesville. Department officials met with experts from other states with similar interchanges to confirm its functionality before building this one. Two additional DDIs will be constructed as part of the I-39/90 Project.
“It’s working really well and we have received positive comments,” Theisen reports. “We’ve seen an increase in efficiency in that area, including its functionality as an Oversized-Overweight route.”
Hoffman recycled all of the existing pavements and made new aggregate from it, breaking the concrete on the side of the road, section by section.
“It allowed us to be competitive on the project,” said Jim Hoffman, President of Hoffman Construction. “It’s a win-win. We are going to encourage the department to look at those opportunities up and down the project.”
Additionally, Hoffman found a rock outcropping on an area of excess right-of-way, eliminating the need to haul in additional rock for the job and saving the state about $150,000.
“We’re looking for opportunities that they can save this type of money on an ongoing basis,” Hoffman says.
Subcontractors of Rock Road set the piers and cofferdams for the southboundRock River bridge, near Edgertonin fall 2017, and in February the team placed the prestressed concrete girders for the bridge. WisDOT delineated a channel for boats using the river under the bridges and actively notifies water enthusiasts about the project.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced that WisDOT will advance $32.7 million into fiscal year 2018, putting the project on track to finish all but one interchange one year ahead of schedule in 2021. The state is conducting an environmental analysis at the I-39/90 and U.S. 12/18 interchange near Madison.
“The magnitude of reconstructing the interstate created challenges such as efficiently managing I-39/90 traffic and intersecting highway routes along the corridor,” Theisen says. “For example, a decision was made to keep two lanes of traffic open in each direction during daytime hours, and minimize delays and disruptions to area businesses, residents and the traveling public.”
WisDOT has proactively communicated about the project with stakeholders and the public since design began in 2012 through dozens of business/public meetings and a project website, social media, and an email distribution list.
“Through those tools, project staff have reached thousands of people to inform them about upcoming I-39/90 construction work, associated traffic impacts, public meetings and other project notices,” Theisen says. “WisDOT also created the ‘In This Together’ program, designed to help businesses that may be impacted during construction. The program provides helpful tools and tips on how to promote your business to attract customers who may be reluctant to travel through a construction zone.”
WisDOT also implemented travel time monitoring technologies, using Bluetooth and probe data collection, on I-39/90 and alternate routes in Dane and Rock counties to help mitigate travel delays when incidents happen on I-39/90.
“With that data, motorists are given options for choosing their preferred route to reach their destination via message boards along the Interstate, as well as the state’s 511 Travel Information,” Theisen says. “It also informs drivers where work zones are located, as well as locations of incidents along the Interstate.”
The department is working directly with first responders, including the Wisconsin State Patrol, to ensure a quick response to incidents along the corridor. Additionally, WisDOT purchased four Traffic Incident Management trailers, used by the state patrol and local emergency service providers, to respond to incidents on the Interstate.
“The trailers have been very effective and even used for incidents outside of the I-39/90 corridor, such as flooding in western Wisconsin last year,” Theisen says.
In 2017, WisDOT teamed up with State Farm to launch the Wisconsin DOT State Farm Safety Patrol. The coverage area includes three vehicles on the I-39/90 corridor, ands safety patrol vehicles for the Milwaukee and Appleton areas. The program offers free, limited roadside assistance to drivers in need under the common goal of enhancing safety and mobility.
“In all, we have received minimal complaints and a lot of positive feedback about the I-39/90 Expansion Project,” Theisen says. “We appreciate everyone’s continued patience throughout this major project.”
Our newsletter right to your inbox.
See stories from other regions.