Earthmoving Prepares Way For Highway Work

Story and Photos by Mike Larson, Editor | September 28, 2010

The work site parallels about a mile of Hwy. 41 south of the Hickory St. interchange on the southwestern side of Fond du Lac.

Excavating, filling, and grading are playing a key role in preparing for the temporary widening of U.S. Hwy. 41 on the southwestern edge of Fond du Lac, WI.

The work, being handled by Mashuda Contractors, Princeton, WI, and Michels Corp., Brownsville, WI, will make it possible to build two temporary southbound lanes and two temporary northbound lanes to carry the approximately 36,000 vehicles that use this 1.14-mile stretch of four-lane urban highway every day.

Those temporary lanes will enable the highway to maintain full traffic flow while contractors repave the four lanes that would normally carry the highway's traffic, build piers in the median to support a new railroad bridge that crosses above the highway, and reconfigure the entrance and exit ramps at the Hickory St. interchange.

Michels Corp. is the general contractor managing the $22-million overall project for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).

The current project is the fourth and final phase in rebuilding all of U.S. 41 throughout Fond du Lac County, from the Dodge County line in the south to the Winnebago County line in the north.

The previous three phases were conducted in the summers of 2006, 2007 and 2008.

The current project began in July 2008 and will be completed in November 2009.

Scott Tease is managing this project for Michels. Says Tease, “We want to complete the improvements to this stretch of highway efficiently, effectively and safely as possible, while minimizing disruption to the driving public.”

Temporary Lanes Are One Key To Success

Tease says that building two new temporary lanes in each direction is one key to achieving that goal.

“We have a lot of work going on in a relatively small space,” he says. “We are changing the Hickory Street interchange from having curl ramps to a diamond alignment. We are building a new bridge to carry Hickory Street over the highway, as well as a replacement railway bridge and a pedestrian bridge nearby. And we are going to repave the highway's four permanent traffic lanes.”

“With all the activity continuing through the winter and next year, the best answer for maximizing traffic flow and safety was to build two sets of temporary lanes along the outside edges of the existing roadway,” said Tease.

Constructing Lanes A Team Effort

Earthmoving for the extra lanes became a continuation of the site preparation being done for the abutments that support the ends of the railroad and pedestrian bridges.

In order to make room for the abutments, the project's earthmoving subcontractor, Mashuda, needed to cut back and grade the high embankments along both sides of thehighway.

Doing so made room for building the temporary sets of lanes in each direction.

Constructing them was a team effort between Mashuda, Michels and Northeast Asphalt, Inc. (NEA).

Mashuda started the work by using hydraulic excavators to dig out the dirt from the ditches and hillsides, filling the soft marshy areas with firmer fill, and then grading the hillside slopes and the area under the temporary lanes.

Spoil removed by the excavating was taken to a nearby WisDOT storage site.

One of the challenges facing Mashuda in the earthmoving phase of the job was working around the many utilities buried in the work area.

But thanks to locating services from utility companies, GPS checking, and careful work by Mashuda's operators, the excavating was completed without incident.

Michels, who in addition to being general contractor is also handling gravel and highway paving on the project, then laid gravel over the compacted and leveled dirt before grading and compacting it to form a base for the 5-inch-thick temporary asphalt pavement laid by NEA.

Starting this fall, the temporary lanes to the east and west of the existing highway will carry traffic along the sides of the existing pavement so that the bridge subcontractor, Lunda Construction, of Black River Falls, WI, can safely construct piers in the highway median to support the new pedestrian and Canadian National railway bridges, as well as demolish the piers that support the existing railway bridge, which will be dismantled.

To maintain vital railway traffic, the new bridge must be completed and operational before the existing one is destroyed.

Throughout 2009, WisDOT will use various combinations of the temporary and permanent lanes on U.S. 41 to maintain a full flow of traffic in each direction while Michels repaves the permanent lanes with 11 inches of new concrete and reconstructs the median islands.

By sometime in November of 2009, the entire project will be complete, the temporary lanes will have been torn out, and the roadside will look as though they were never even there.