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I-94 repaving project will slow traffic between Waukesha, Milwaukee

Travel times to double during project

Dec. 18, 2010
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By Tom Held of the Journal Sentinel

Dec. 18, 2010 0

A stockpile of books on tape and gift cards for gas may be the perfect Christmas presents for motorists who regularly drive I-94 between Waukesha and downtown Milwaukee.

Travel times on the busy section of freeway will more than double during a repaving project scheduled to last about three months, from early April to the end of June.

Motorists commuting between the Marquette Interchange and Wisconsin Highway 16 can expect to add an hour per day to their drive time.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is working to lessen the blow by diverting 50% of the daily traffic from the freeway, either on local roads or through greater use of buses and car pools.

To reach that goal, roughly 70,000 to 80,000 motorists a day would have to be coaxed onto alternate routes or means of transportation. Daily traffic totals on I-94 range from 103,000 in Waukesha County to 168,000 in Milwaukee County, according to the DOT.

Officials in communities along the freeway, including Wauwatosa, West Allis and Brookfield, are planning for heavier traffic loads on Blue Mound Road, Wisconsin Ave., North Ave., Capitol Drive, Greenfield Ave., National Ave. and Lincoln Ave.

A train will not be an option. The DOT has no plans to restore the commuter rail service it offered during the last I-94 resurfacing in 1997-'98.

"That didn't prove to be effective," said Roberto Gutierrez, the project manager for the DOT.

Almost 50 years old, the section of I-94 is due for a new layer of pavement to smooth the surface and eliminate increasing cracks and potholes. This will be the third resurfacing since that portion of freeway opened in 1963.

Starting in April, workers from Zignego Co. will remove the top layer of asphalt and turn the underlying concrete to rubble. Fresh asphalt will be laid over the compacted gravel for a road surface expected to last another 12 to 15 years.

Zignego submitted the low bid of $44 million for the resurfacing work on roughly 10 miles of interstate in Waukesha County and 2.5 miles from N. 70th St. to N. 32nd St. in Milwaukee.

For much of the three-month span, the freeway will be reduced from six lanes of traffic to four.

Exit and entrance ramps will be closed. Entrance ramps to I-94 westbound from N. 35th St., Mitchell Blvd. and Hawley Road will be closed for the entire three months.

Other ramps, including those connecting I-94 to Highway 41, will be closed for two-week stretches during the construction.

Only the westbound lane of I-94 in Milwaukee will be resurfaced in 2011, and the upcoming project will not touch on the roadway in the Zoo Interchange.

The work on the eastbound lanes of I-94 will be done in 2012.

The tab for the resurfacing is estimated to be $70 million, including new decks on more than a dozen bridges, fresh paint, improvements to the shoulders and medians, and the efforts to mitigate traffic congestion during the project.

The Zoo Interchange section will be addressed as part of a major reconstruction. No date has been established for the start of the larger project, expected to cost upward of $2 billion.

A spokesman for Governor-elect Scott Walker has not revealed his plans for the upcoming reconstruction of the busiest interchange in the state.

"Governor-elect Walker and members of the transition team are still receiving budget briefings on a number of issues including the state of the transportation fund," Cullen Werwie wrote in an e-mail. "Along the campaign trail, Governor-elect Walker indicated that the Zoo Interchange was a priority."

Mitigation efforts

The Milwaukee County Transit System plans to provide additional bus service in the area affected by the road work, but nothing specific has been determined, said Jacquelyn Janz, a spokeswoman for the system.

In Milwaukee, West Allis, Wauwatosa and Brookfield, engineers are planning to adjust the timing of traffic signals on the main local streets to accommodate the additional east-west traffic. The DOT has asked that parking be eliminated on some streets to increase the road capacity.

"We'll work with the DOT to minimize the disruption as much as possible," said Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto.

In particular, Ponto and other Brookfield officials are anxious to ensure that the businesses along Blue Mound Road are accessible.

The difficulties along W. Blue Mound won't ease when the main work on I-94 finishes at the end of June. Reconstruction of the roadway, Highway 18, will begin on July 1.

The major portion of the resurfacing is scheduled to be completed by June 24 to avoid major congestion during Summerfest and other events on the lakefront. Transportation officials also have worked with the Milwaukee Brewers to keep the cars and fans rolling into Miller Park.

"We've been in communication with the DOT and are confident that the impact will be minimized through our coordinated efforts," said Tyler Barnes, a Brewers spokesman. "The Brewers and DOT have a history of working together on projects such as the Zoo and Marquette interchanges."

Funding: The DOT will pay for the resurfacing from the account dedicated to the Southeast Freeway Rehabilitation Program. The Legislature allocated $189.7 million to the fund in the 2010 budget year and $178 million in fiscal year 2011.

Federal dollars allocated through the stimulus program will be used to pay for a portion of the costs, primarily the bridge and structure work.

In the 2009-'11 biennium, the state has budgeted $628 million for repairs and reconstruction of freeways in southeast Wisconsin, including federal stimulus funds and borrowed money. A significant portion of that money has been directed to the reconstruction and expansion of I-94 north-south to the Illinois state line.

Started in 2008, that project will continue through 2016 at an expected cost of $1.9 billion.

About Tom Held
A reporter with the Journal Company since 1985. Covered police, local government, non-profits, major crimes and disasters. Created Off the Couch blog in 2006 and expanded coverage of outdoor recreation.
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