Staging Keeps Milwaukee's Marquette Interchange On Schedule

By Barry Gantenbein | September 28, 2010

Like any other construction job, the Marquette Interchange reconstruction project in Milwaukee is being built step by step.

But when the project is the $810-million reconstruction of the interchange where I-94, I-43 and I-794 meet, the staging of construction is a complex task.

For instance, a 100-foot-long section of permanent roadway was built two years ago, then buried beneath a layer of plastic covering, gravel and temporary asphalt.

The section of permanent roadway was covered with temporary pavement as part of the construction of a new ramp from eastbound I-94 to northbound I-43.

"When we had access to that area, it was decided to put in a section of permanent pavement for the future ramp underneath the temporary pavement," said Ryan Luck, PE, core construction manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).

When the new ramp was ready to open in late November of this year, the temporary pavement was removed, the permanent roadway exposed and the new ramp connected in one night's operation.

If the permanent roadway hadn't been built in advance, that section of roadway would have had to be built and paved before the ramp could be opened to traffic.

Constructing and paving the roadway in late November would undoubtedly have taken longer than one night, Luck said.

The new ramp from eastbound I-94 to northbound I-43 is being built underneath and alongside the current northbound I-43.

A straddle bent beam system constructed in 2004 is supporting the northbound I-43 bridge during construction of the interchange.

"We severed the columns underneath that bridge. That allowed us to put secant shafts and retaining walls underneath this system, creating a canyon and creating the sublevel ramp underneath the interchange.

"It's very complicated work, and very intricate to get the equipment and the contractors in there," said Luck.

By Design

Milwaukee Transportation Partners, a joint venture whose main principals are HNTB Corporation and CH2M Hill, is doing the staging and design work for the Marquette Interchange reconstruction project.

"The designers that put this project together basically put together a three-year construction program, and put all the different staging together," said Luck.

Walsh Construction, Chicago, and Marquette Constructors (a consortium made up of Edward Kraemer & Sons, Inc., Plain, Wis.; Lunda Construction Co., Inc., Black River Falls, Wis.; and Zenith Tech, Inc., Waukesha, Wis.) are the prime contactors for the Marquette Interchange reconstruction project.

Contractors have had to tweak staging for the Marquette Interchange reconstruction, but have made relatively few changes, Luck said.

"They haven't had to break it down and reconstruct the job," said Luck.

Planning ahead has kept disruptions to traffic at a minimum, and kept construction moving ahead.

The project is on schedule to be completed in November of 2008, and key elements of staging are ahead of schedule, said Luck.

One of the early staging decisions was the relocation of utilities along Clybourn Street in 2004, before most other Marquette Interchange reconstruction work began.

"A lot of the utilities were relocated and put underneath that street. The designers broke that off as a separate contract, and got that done all at once. That set the stage for some of the more advanced work to be performed," said Luck.

In addition, the work on Clybourn Street created a completed route on the southern edge of the campus of Marquette University, providing access to campus during the life of the project.

The construction team works closely with Marquette University officials to prevent conflict. The team also works with the Bucks, Admirals and staff at the Bradley Center and theaters in downtown Milwaukee to avoid conflict between construction and traffic from downtown events.

For instance, on the night of a November Bucks basketball game it was decided to delay by 10 minutes the time to close a ramp, in case the game went into overtime. Of course, the game went into overtime, but with the ramp open fans could leave downtown without delay.

Good Neighbors

"Working with our neighbors involves noise issues, nighttime work and coordinating schedules. That's a big responsibility, and a burden, that we put on the contractors. They've been doing a great job," said Luck.

A liaison from Marquette meets weekly with the construction team.

E-mail is one of the methods used to keep students up to date on construction issues of interest, such as night operations.

The demolition of the Wisconsin Avenue bridge took place during a two-week semester break last January, for instance.

Construction of five bridges has been a big part of the Marquette Interchange reconstruction project during the first two years of work.

"One of the things in the plan was to maintain enough access to the community and stage the demolition and reconstruction of the bridges," Luck said.

The last of the bridges to be reconstructed, Wisconsin Avenue, was completed and opened to traffic in early December.

Construction of temporary ramps was one of the methods used to maintain access to downtown Milwaukee and Marquette University possible, and to allow two lanes of traffic — both east-west and north-south — to remain open during construction.

"Traffic keeps flowing through the job, and we've been real happy with that. The design has worked, and the contractors have been able to do their work," said Luck.

Work has included crews constructing bridges between existing concrete columns, which are then demolished.

"It's more than the just the designer. The contractors are the ones who have to demolish the concrete and bring it down. It's a lot of concrete, and a lot of weight, up in the air," Luck said.

Milwaukee Transportation Partners is still very much involved with the project.

"We've got hundreds of design questions that come in. We put together a team and processes to get answers back to the contractors as quickly as possible. We set a goal to get a response back to the contractor within seven days from the time we get a question. We have to meet their needs to keep the project on schedule," Luck said.