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As rising flood waters threatened to cut the main interstate highway connecting two of Wisconsin's principal cities, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and a group of contractors led by Hoffman Construction Co. built two highway crossovers in about 48 hours to keep traffic flowing.
Interstate Highway 94 is a major highway whose four lanes are a vital artery carrying traffic between Chicago; Milwaukee and Madison, WI; and Minneapolis, MN.
The nearly 80 miles of I-94 that carries traffic east and west between Wisconsin's largest city, Milwaukee, and the state's capital, Madison, is among the most traveled highways in the state.
It is a crucial link for commerce, as well as passenger traffic.
In June, heavy rains in many parts of Wisconsin led to record catastrophic floods in the central and southern parts of the state.
The affected rivers included the Rock and the Crawfish, which run from north to south and cross under I-94 a little more than halfway from Milwaukee to Madison.
As the rivers continued to rise dangerously, they threatened to wash out the bridges that carried the two west-bound lanes of I-94 over them.
The bridges that carry the highway's east-bound lanes were not threatened because they sit about four feet higher.
To protect public safety, WisDOT closed the two westbound lanes of I-94 and diverted westbound traffic south to Beloit, then north from Beloit to Madison, a detour about 117 miles long. The detour route made use of the two nearest freeways that could handle the required volume of traffic.
The next step in the solution was to build highway crossovers east of the Rock River and west of the Crawfish River so the unthreatened lanes of I-94 could carry one lane of traffic in each direction for about five miles.
That option would provide an alternative for drivers who didn't want to take the 117-mile detour.
About 11:00 a.m. on Monday, June 16, WisDOT sent out e-mails asking for a contractor who would be willing to build the two emergency crossovers on I-94 – on a 48-hour deadline.
Hoffman Construction Co., Black River Falls, WI, answered the call.
By Monday afternoon, just a few hours after receiving the WisDOT e-mail, Hoffman officials had already met with WisDOT officials, signed the $860,000 contract, contacted Diggers Hotline, and begun planning in order to mobilize its crews by noon the next day – Tuesday, June 17 – when the project's clock would start ticking.
Says Hoffman Construction President Jim Hoffman, “We received a standard drawing that WisDOT uses for building temporary crossovers during highway construction, and we had 48 hours to get two built. We were glad to help out and eager to address the challenge.
“Fortunately,” he says, “the timing of some of our other projects enabled us to grab the people and equipment we needed for this job. That included taking equipment from jobs that had just finished, as well as pulling trucks from a WisDOT job in Oshkosh, WI, and Project Manager Brian Aebly from a job we were doing for WisDOT in Oconto, WI.”
Hoffman's 48 hours of construction time started at noon on Tuesday, June 17. That meant the deadline for finishing both crossovers was noon on Thursday, June 19 – with a $10,000 penalty for every hour past the deadline.
On Tuesday, Hoffman assembled the team of specialty contractors and suppliers it needed in order to succeed at the daunting task.
In addition to Hoffman Construction's 12 site workers and 40 dump trucks, the team also included about 15 workers and 20 trucks from asphalt paver Payne & Dolan (Waukesha, WI), seven workers from Lunda Construction Co. (Black River Falls, WI), a team from Highway Landscapers (Jefferson, WI), and a number of other contractors such as traffic-safety companies.
“We started with WisDOT's standard drawing for a crossover, but no grades or elevations,” says Jim Hoffman. “Everything was laid out as we went along, with changes made on the fly as conditions required.”
As one example, WisDOT accepted Hoffman's suggestion to move one of the crossovers from its originally planned location to a nearby high spot in the median in order to save the quantity of fill and materials needed.
After grades had been established, Hoffman's excavators worked around the clock, scooping out soft soil to make room for fill, a 14-inch-deep gravel base, and 5 inches of asphalt pavement.
Because of the soft soil at one crossover location, Hoffman had to excavate about 30 percent to 40 percent more than planned, but still kept on pace for the two-day finish.
By about 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 18, the excavation had been finished and the 14 inches of gravel base course had been laid and compacted. It was time for Payne & Dolan to begin its 15-hour around-the-clock paving marathon.
Working straight through Wednesday night, Payne & Dolan finished paving both crossovers at mid morning on Thursday.
That left only the final shouldering work and installing of the median wands and safety barriers that would separate the bi-directional traffic traveling the 5-mile bypass.
As the originally specified safety barriers and lane dividers were being installed, WisDOT safety experts decided that additional barrier wall and crash cushions were needed at bridge abutments.
Installing the extra safety equipment added an hour and three quarters to the job. Had this extra work not been added at the last minute, the 48-hour deadline would have been met.
Still, both emergency crossovers were constructed from scratch in essentially two days, restoring one lane of westbound traffic flow to this vital section of interstate.
“We could not have done this without the total cooperation of the other key contractors and suppliers,” says Jim Hoffman.
“Brian Wallace of Payne & Dolan made their asphalt and paving crews available – on call – 24 hours a day. Lunda provided seven trailer loads of concrete barrier. Highway Landscapers did whatever we asked. Three aggregate sources supplied the stone we needed, despite battling floods in their quarries. WisDOT's James Forseth was on site around the clock. Absolutely everyone pitched in to do whatever was needed. It was a real team effort,” he said.