Zoo Interchange work's twists and turns reach into West Allis roads

Early construction stages will result in blockages along some routes

May 29, 2012

As the Wisconsin Department of Transportation reconstructs the Zoo Interchange, drivers will see related construction on local streets in the early stages leading up to the looping highway work itself.

The work will be heaviest in Wauwatosa but will also impact parts of West Allis beginning this year.

DOT officials got the word from stakeholders that they should do what they can to minimize construction headaches in any one area and move the project along, said Brett Wallace, deputy director of the DOT's Southeast Region.

'Pulling off a mega-project'

Wallace provided an update earlier this month during a meeting organized by the Wauwatosa Chamber of Commerce on the project, which is aimed at improving the state's busiest interchange and its impacts on local roadways.

"It's arguably the most complex and challenging project and, perhaps when it's complete, the most beneficial project," Wallace said, adding that the Zoo Interchange is the gateway to downtown Milwaukee and critical for access to tourism, jobs and medical care.

DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb said he's confident his employees have the expertise to "pull off the mega-project with limited disruptions."

New to southeast Wisconsin, Wallace brings experience with large road projects, including the improvements to Highway 41 in Green Bay. He will work with the team that built the Marquette Interchange, then transitioned to the Interstate 94 north-south project.

An initial challenge for this project is to relocate public utilities because the freeway area is a main utility corridor, Wallace said. Energy transmission lines, tunnels and substations, sewer lines and petroleum pipelines, equipment for 13 communications companies and railroads all fall in the project area.

Re-bridging the gap

Next year comes the biggest headache for West Allis. That's when the Greenfield Avenue bridge over Interstate 894/U.S. Highway 45 is slated to be closed for months, said Christopher St. Claire, principal road engineer for the city. Officials have already met with business owners and residents about the project details.

The bridge is planned to be closed from March to July 2013, with the goal to have it open before the Wisconsin State Fair in August.

The new Greenfield Avenue bridge will be wider, with two left turn lanes at each freeway entrance ramp. It also will have some aesthetic enhancements.

With traffic already diverted due to that bridge work, the DOT will take the opportunity to fix Greenfield Avenue itself.

The road will be reconstructed from 106th to 97th streets. From Highway 100 west to 124th Street, the road will simply be repaved, St. Claire said, and traffic will be able to drive through that project area, he said.

State highway officials are lumping the road and bridge projects together partly to reduce the impact on businesses and residents, he said.

With the Greenfield bridge out, traffic will flow onto other east-west streets, St. Claire said. The city and DOT are bracing for that by putting up traffic lights at strategic locations.

This summer, the state DOT will install lights at Lincoln Avenue and I-894/U.S. 45, at National and I-894/U.S. 45 and at National and Cleveland avenues. Road officials expect much heavier traffic on Lincoln, National and Oklahoma avenues between Highway 100 and 76th Street, he said.

"Lights help the flow of traffic," St. Claire said.

Other local impacts

While the major impact will be on those streets and on Greenfield Avenue, there also will be sporadic street closings as heavy equipment and huge road and bridge pieces, such as girders, are brought in.

"There will be temporary road closures as the work the DOT is going to do dictates," St. Claire said, adding that how long each will last is something the DOT is still considering.

While work on major streets and bridges around the interchange will be done first, the actual reconstruction is slated from 2015 to 2018. Work on I-94 will extend as far east as 70th Street. Work on I-894/U.S. 45 will go as far south as Lincoln Avenue.

Interchange work crews will need staging areas, he said.

The most obvious access points in West Allis are Schlinger Avenue from 84th to 97th streets and 100th Street north of Greenfield Avenue. Most of that stretch along Schlinger will be reconstructed this year, and it will be built to withstand the construction traffic, he said.

In addition, the Hank Aaron State Trail also will likely be closed, with an alternate route created, he said.

Although work on the southern leg from the interchange will end at Lincoln Avenue, the DOT is including replacing the Cleveland Avenue bridge south of Lincoln in the project. That bridge replacement is slated for 2013.

Also, because state Highway 100 through West Allis runs parallel to I-894/U.S. 45, it could wind up in Zoo Interchange plans. The DOT is considering three options for widening Highway 100.

But West Allis officials don't want any of them because they say all will result in loss of businesses. West Allis officials want the DOT to widen I-894 instead of Highway 100. State officials haven't decided on a plan.

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