Highway Corridor Reconstruction Builds Road To Future

Edited by Mike Larson, Photos Courtesy of County Materials Corp. | September 28, 2010

The result of the labor will long outlive the workers who brought it forth. And the designers, transporters and installers of the concrete construction materials going into the extensive network of bridges and transportation structures in central Wisconsin couldn't be more proud.

Zenith Tech Inc., of Waukesha and Rothschild, and Lunda Construction, of Black River Falls, two of the largest bridge contractors in the Midwest, are the general contractors for massive highway construction projects on US 10 near Stevens Point and US 51/Wis 29 near Wausau in central Wisconsin.

Representing investments of $234 million and $289 million, respectively, the two projects are owned by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). They will improve traffic flow and safety through this rapidly growing area of the state.

County Materials is supplying all of the precast concrete girders on the US 51/Wis 29 reconstruction at Wausau, and 192 girders for the US 10 expansion running from just north of Stevens Point westward to Hwy 13 in Marshfield. County Materials also supplied the ready-mix for the projects' piers, sidewalks, parapets, and driving decks.

The 51/29 work includes (Marathon) County R, which runs parallel to 51/29 and opened in October 2005 as a bypass during road construction on the Interstate.

"It has required a lot of coordination of personnel, from plant-to-plant, ready-mix drivers, and quality-control people," said Bob Wells, a ready-mix project supervisor with County Materials. "We coordinated cement and aggregate deliveries, and in many cases ice. A 1,500-cubic-yard bridge-deck pour at night or very early in the morning makes it more challenging. You need a lot of people and resources to properly support pours and deliveries of this magnitude."

Construction crews poured seals, footings, abutments, columns and pier caps, then set the beams. After pouring the diaphragms, they finished the decks and parapets. The work was performed in fluctuating Wisconsin weather conditions, everything from sub-zero temperatures to snow, rain and warm sunny weather.

Throughout the projects, County Materials delivered the staggering quantity of required material in consistent, timely batches.

Jeff Michalski, independent assurance specialist for WisDOT's north central region, said, "There's a comfort level when [all the concrete] comes from one provider."

County Materials sent its own testers to the sites to monitor batches. Michalski continued, "The fact that they do their own testing, that's the best thing County Materials ever did ... and the fact that (they) were able to adjust their schedule for off-hour pours."

Mike Strong, who oversees aspects of these pours for County Materials, talked about the company's flexibility in meeting customer schedules. "You can't just pour some and call it a day," he said. "The DOT can only put headers at certain points in each project."

Rebuilding US 51/Wis 29

WisDOT describes US 51 as the primary north-south corridor serving interstate travel through central Wisconsin.

Although Wis 29 is runs primarily east and west, it merges onto a north-south portion of 51, serving as a local commuter route for much of metropolitan Wausau.

The combination of interstate and local traffic creates heavy congestion, and the expected growth was a major reason for the reconstruction.

The state is rebuilding 7 miles of US 51/Wis 29 between Foxglove Road in Rib Mountain and Bridge Street in Wausau, expanding the current four-lane divided highway to a six-lane divided highway.

The $289-million project began in 2004 and is schedule to wrap in 2010.

Expanding US 10 Bypass

An east-west highway connecting Wisconsin's Fox Cities to Minnesota's Twin Cities, US 10 serves as an important regional and state link for business, industry, agriculture, and recreation.

WisDOT is expanding 31 miles of US 10 between I-39 north of Stevens Point to Hwy 13 in Marshfield. The new four-lane highway will bypass downtown Stevens Point and also several small villages between Stevens Point and Marshfield.

This $234-million expansion began in 2006 and is slated to finish in 2012.

Passing The Test

From December 2007 to February 2008, workers braved wintry winds and temperatures to measure, pour and test ready-mix concrete for the footings, piers and pier caps that support the US 10 bridges over the Wisconsin River.

Expediting the process was an innovative technology: maturity loggers — computer chips embedded in the concrete. The chips allowed testers to hook up a handheld unit to measure a structure's internal temperature in order to gauge the concrete's curing rate.

That information allowed them to accurately measure the pounds per square inch (psi) the concrete could support. When its strength had reached 2,500 psi, workers could remove the forms, and at 3,500 psi, they could remove the cold-weather protection. The maturity loggers supplemented the traditional testing method of pouring separate cylinders.

"It's an additional tool to determine concrete's strength," Strong said. "It reduces the time contractors need to wait to remove their forms from 10 days to 3-1/2. That benefits the contractors — and ultimately the taxpayer — in that they save so much on time and labor. And the DOT benefits by getting a more accurate record of temperature as the concrete cures."

A Tall And Long Order For US 10

Even workers had to pause to take snapshots when Zenith Tech used a pair of high-capacity cranes to place the first of 192 massive concrete girders for the US 10 bridges over the Wisconsin River in May 2007.

Said Dan Rosolack, manager of County Materials' bridge division in Eau Claire that produced the massive beams, "I thought these girders looked massive enough in our yard. Then we put them on trucks to ship ... breathtaking." They are the largest beams the company has ever made.

Weighing roughly 1,000 pounds per linear foot and measuring about 160 feet long, the beams made for a challenging delivery, including backing up for long stretches to get to the job site. They compose the crossing over the river and an elevated stretch that carries traffic over wetland and wildlife areas.

Said Rosolack, "Anytime you are dealing with a new girder section, there are many unknowns and challenges right from the start. This project was no exception. But we put our experience to work."

An Arterial Benefit

What began as an alternate route for folks to get to work or go shopping has become a vital corridor derived from the 51/29 reconstruction. County R — a 1.5-mile, $7.3-million arterial opened in May 2004 — runs parallel to the Interstate between County NN in Rib Mountain and Sherman Street in Wausau.

County Materials supplied the girders and ready-mix for the 565-foot bridge over the Big Rib River, which includes two lanes and a recreational trail.

Said Darrin Stanke, vice president of operations for Zenith Tech, "County Materials really took care of everything."