Zoo Interchange work begins finding its way

Six-year project will include days-long shutdowns of major intersections

Photo By Kristyna Wentz-Graff

Sept. 28, 2012

West Allis - The reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange is under way at last, with temporary exit ramps being constructed from U.S. Highway 45 onto Wisconsin Avenue in Wauwatosa, and a ramp under construction at the south end of the project, onto Lincoln Avenue in West Allis.

These are just the first small steps of an undertaking that will make driving in and around the two cities a challenge for several years, and, for a few key weeks, shut down major thoroughfares entirely.

In Tosa, the Wisconsin Avenue exit ramps will provide access to the Regional Medical Complex while other parts of the project are being built. But the greatest change on city streets for those who shop, live and work in Wauwatosa will be on Mayfair and Watertown Plank roads.

Water main project

In addition to the Lincoln Avenue ramp, the current construction in West Allis also includes other prep work tied to the interchange project.

Crews were to begin work last week on relocating a water main on Greenfield Avenue between 97th and 101st streets. The $376,000 project is coordinated with the Zoo Interchange reconstruction.

Relocating the water main off of the freeway bridge this year will allow bridge demolition to start in early 2013. A new bridge and ramps at Greenfield Avenue over Interstate 894/U.S. Highway 45 will be constructed and are slated to open in time for the 2013 Wisconsin State Fair.

Traffic lanes will be open during construction, with intermittent shoulder and sidewalk closures on the north side of Greenfield Avenue from 96th Street to 100th Street. Sidewalk that connects from the corner of Madison Place and 100th Street will be closed long-term. Pedestrians will be re-routed on sidewalk west to 101st Street, north to Madison Place and east to 100th Street.

A graphic of this closure available in the newsroom section of www.zoointerchange.wi.gov. Access to businesses and area residents will be maintained.

Mayfair's makeover

Mayfair Road will go first, beginning in the spring. The road is still being rebuilt from Burleigh Road south about a mile and half south to the post office. At the beginning of March, the approach to the interchange, from Watertown Plank Road to the eventual exit and entry ramps will get under way.

State Department of Transportation materials suggest the Mayfair Road work will continue right through the end of next year. From July 20 to 31, the contractor is expected to entirely shut down the intersection of Blue Mound and Mayfair roads. Based on community input, the DOT has opted for a shorter period of complete shutdown rather than a number of weeks of lane closures and traffic backups.

DOT communications manager Emlynn Grisar said the department has been working with businesses in the area, including Edwardo's Pizza, Caribou Coffee and Mo's Irish Pub, among others, to give them access and time to prepare.

Mayfair Road will have colored crosswalks to increase pedestrian safety.

Watertown Plank's redux

Watertown Plank Road will see much greater change. It is scheduled for reconstruction beginning late next year and into 2014. The road will be widened by one lane in each direction from Mayfair Road to 87th Street, and the simple ramps with light signals that allow travelers off and on Highway 45 will be replaced by a broad, looping, free-flowing interchange that will accommodate greater capacity and efficiency.

The Watertown Plank and Mayfair road projects will completely shut down the intersection of Mayfair and Watertown Plank roads from Aug. 1-10, 2013.

When the road work is done, the DOT says it will build a bike and pedestrian bridge across Watertown Plank, from a point near the Ronald McDonald House on one side to Children's Hospital on the other.

Northbound drivers on Highway 45 who are used to getting off at Watertown Plank, crossing the intersection and sliding right up to Swan Boulevard will not have that easy access when the work is done. From the exit, they will have to turn left on Watertown Plank and head west to a new intersection of Watertown Plank and Swan, to be constructed about halfway between the highway and Mayfair Road.

The DOT said it will minimize impacts of the work during big events, including Zoo ala Carte, the State Fair, and the 110th anniversary celebration of Harley-Davidson.

The whole deal

The entire Zoo Interchange project will cost about $1.7 billion, and will continue through 2018, according to the DOT.

At its heart is a complex four-level highway crossing of Interstate 94 and Highway 45. Beyond the surface changes, the project is made more complex by an intricate utility infrastructure, including water mains, pumping stations, sewer lines, gas and communication lines, and overhead and underground power lines, some of which may be moved, Grisar said.

Jane Ford-Stewart contributed to this story.

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