The WIS 55 Reconstruction project, which took place in the city of Kaukauna in Outagamie County, 30 minutes outside of Green Bay, involved updating a roadway to turn it from a rural route to an urban route. The route noted here is WIS 55, a primary U.S. 41 access point for the city of Kaukauna, which is the home of a thriving industrial park. Planning for the project began back in 2008. Tim Rank P.E., a Project Development Project Manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) was responsible for overseeing the project. Rank, who joined WisDOT five years ago, has worked on the project from the time it was 50 percent through planning to the day-to-day operations of construction.
"Part of Route 55 was a two-lane highway with gravel shoulders and an open ditch," says Rank. "Making it an urban route meant expanding to four lanes, adding a curb and gutter and storm sewer, and making sure draining is appropriate for the roadway."
The project also included adding a traffic signal at the WIS 55/WIS 96 intersection, adding four roundabouts, and adding bike/pedestrian accommodations to the area. Finally, there was the need to update the pavement, which was severely distressed (it dates back to the 1950s) and add sidewalks.
An Active Area
The work was made necessary due to the thriving industrial park. When traffic studies were conducted back when the project was in the planning phase, WisDOT found that there was an average of 11,000 daily traffic commuters utilizing WIS 55 as a primary access to and from Kaukauna to U.S. 41, which runs past the entrance to the city industrial park.
Due to this large amount of activity, intersections in the vicinity are experiencing extensive delays during peak traffic hours. In designing the project, WisDOT considered what locals have in the long-range plan. According to Rank, "New facilities are developing that had been vacant and other things are popping up, so the North end of the city is growing. The locals have a larger plan to identify connected routes for use throughout the area."
In addition to reducing traffic, the project's goal was to improve safety. This goal was met by creating roundabouts. "The decision to use roundabouts was made for a few reasons, including the area being well known for them, and it adds a safety benefit,” says Rank. "The injury rate and severity go down as do fender benders once people adjust to driving through roundabouts."
Roundabouts might seem like a curious decision considering the industrial park and the truck traffic it draws. The three main players on the corridor needed accommodations to have large vehicle access. To ensure proper access to the area, WisDOT modeled truck turning through the area to make sure they did not have any issues. "We went through different traffic options in the area and a few versions of roundabouts and made sure to address multiple needs, including safety and accessibility for vehicles coming to and from the industrial area," says Rank.
Concrete pavement was installed as part of the project. The new pavement and roadway subsurface are expected to provide a smoother driving surface, extend the service life of the highway and reduce maintenance costs. While you can always patch and make minor improvements on the pavement, Rank notes the planning team felt the pavement life had been exhausted and there needed to be a long-term adjusted pavement structure.
Planning Aids in On-Time Completion
Rank notes there was a good deal of planning and discussions between the county and state as well as coordinating with the public from planning to final design. Those discussions included talks on identifying safety concerns and capacity needs. Once the planning was done, funding needed to be arranged and then construction had to be scheduled.
Regarding funding, the project was let at $9.5 million and came in just above but within WisDOT's goal. Rank credits the final design, the team thinking about unknowns, having a solid plan to address unknowns, and not adding items during construction as the keys to staying within the budget parameters.
The project was completed on time. "As complex as the project was, it was mostly about coordination of all of the stakeholders including utilities, business owners, and locals," says Rank. Another wrinkle was two roadway crossings, which are on the roadway. "There's a huge amount of coordination with the railroads to maintain the design and construction and keep things on track in regards to time.”
The project began in mid-March. A major snowstorm occurred in April and created some challenges. Fortunately, there was good summer weather, which helped keep the project on track. “We know the area we're in often has poor weather, so we had provisions for snow removal as part of the bid," says Rank. There were three 90-day periods in the contract for the contractor to complete work and Rank says they met all of them. "They were never too far behind."
Another part of the contract meant minimizing traffic impact. Along with the contractor, WisDOT in recognition of the special needs of the businesses located in work zones, had signing and other marketing/advertising up during the construction. WisDOT provided resources and a website to assist businesses with planning for construction closures and to minimize the impact of construction.
With the WIS 55 Reconstruction project completed, the industrial park and the surrounding area can feel confident that the roadways are able to handle the growth. Pedestrians can feel confident that their needs were also taken into consideration. And all this was done in exactly the amount of time promised.
Photos courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation
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