Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:29 pm
Don Reinbold is promising to make every effort "keep downtown open for business" as he embarks on the $810 million reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange, the largest public works project in Wisconsin’s history.
Reinbold, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Marquette Interchange team, says two lanes of traffic will be open in all directions at all times during the reconstruction, which won’t be completed until 2008.
Furthermore, the state will launch a new Web site in September to enable commuters and businesses to plot their destinations and find alternative routes to avoid roadblocks.
However, Reinbold is quick to acknowledge that the project is going to disrupt commerce and lifestyles throughout southeastern Wisconsin. After all, about 300,000 vehicles use the Marquette Interchange every day – double its designed capacity.
The interchange is crumbling and needs to be replaced. Reinbold says the new interchange will last longer than the original, will move traffic better and will be safer for motorists.
Years from now, Reinbold may look back at the Marquette Interchange as "his baby." For the foreseeable future, however, the project will likely be the source of longer commutes, detours, traffic jams and even road rage.
Reinbold discussed the Marquette Interchange project in a recent interview with Small Business Times reporter Andrew Weiland. The following are excerpts from that interview.
SBT: What exactly is being done to the interchange? Are you physically taking it down and building a new interchange?
Reinbold: "It’s a total reconstruction."
SBT: So you’re physically taking out what’s there now and replacing it entirely with a new structure?
Reinbold: "Right. It’s going to be a total replacement, and that’s to make it more efficient and make it safer. We are moving all of the left-hand entrances and all of the left-hand exits to the right side. So we’re going to reconfigure the whole thing. We’re still going to have just as many access points to the freeway when we’re done that we have today, except they’re going to be moved around. And, we’re going to build this under traffic. We are going to keep downtown open for business. That’s our primary goal. We promised early on we were going to keep two lanes open eastbound, two westbound, two northbound and two southbound. Some of the ramps in the interchange are going to be closed for different periods of time."
SBT: How bad do you think traffic is going to be during this project?
Reinbold: "I think the anticipation is there that it’s going to be very, very bad. I have to take you back to 1997-98, when we did the east-west freeway (Interstate 94). Everybody feared a lot, and then as we got into the construction, it wasn’t quite as bad as we thought. And that’s good. Our goal is to keep these lanes open and keep downtown open for business. Is it going to be disruptive? Yes. But I think if we all plan our trips we will survive.
"We are hoping some traffic that can divert out of the Marquette Interchange will divert. Some people that commute to downtown will maybe pick alternate routes. Hopefully, some of them will start using Freeway Flyers or carpooling to reduce the amount of traffic. We’ve hired different marketing firms to work with the south side, the north side, downtown, Marquette University and the Hmong population to let them know what’s coming and when. If we tell people what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it, that will really help them plan their trips."
SBT: Do you think the side streets could get overwhelmed?
Reinbold: "We’ve worked with the city of Milwaukee to maybe eliminate parking, to adjust the timing of their traffic signals and sometimes we’re even adding left turn lanes. We’re making improvements on several of our ramps where we know we’re going to get more traffic, like Becher Street, North Avenue and 28th Street. We’re widening them and changing the ramp meter lights to make them more efficient, because there’s going to be more traffic coming on those ramps while other ramps are being closed.
"So, we’re making adjustments to the ramps, the city of Milwaukee is adjusting a lot of traffic signals on alternate routes where we’re expecting to pick up traffic. For example, now with Clybourn Street closing, we’re going to be doing things on St. Paul Avenue to allow it to handle more traffic."
SBT: What’s the status of the Canal Street extension project? That was hoped to be a way to relieve some of the pressure on the interchange. Has that been delayed, and how will that affect traffic through the interchange?
Reinbold: "I don’t consider it a major alternate route. The city is on track to have it completed at the end of ’05, in time for when we would start disrupting, I think in ’06, some of the eastbound traffic on I-94. By that time, I was told Canal Street will be completed out through Miller Park. Canal Street will only go from Miller Park Way to Sixth Street.
SBT: Is there anything else being done to accommodate the businesses downtown during this project?
Reinbold: "We’re working with different business groups downtown. We will meet with any business at any time. We will work with their people to give them all of the information on when the work is going on so they can adjust their work schedules or get the information to their employees as the work progresses.
"In September, we are going to have an interactive Web site where people will be able to get information on directions. You enter where you are coming from and where you are going, and it will draw you a map and give you directions. And if you give us your e-mail information, when we change access to downtown, we will send a message to your computer, and then an icon pops up, and it will let you know. That’s cutting-edge technology that’s never been done for a construction project."
SBT: When the project is done, will there be more lanes of traffic going through the interchange?
Reinbold: "There will still be two lanes going through the interchange, but a lot of the ramps will be (expanded to) two lanes with shoulders instead of one lane and no shoulders. That’s where the bottleneck is right now. Some of the ramps that are one lane can’t handle the traffic."
SBT: There is some talk of doing a big expansion of the entire freeway system of southeastern Wisconsin, going to four lanes in each direction. Is the Marquette Interchange going to be designed to accommodate that if the rest of the freeway system is upgraded?
Reinbold: "What you’re talking about is a study that’s being done by SEWRPC (Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission). That’s not done yet. There is not consensus within the community. There has been talk about making all of the freeways eight lanes. We’re building this interchange to handle traffic from a six-lane freeway. If the community wants sometime in the future to have eight lanes, with adjustments this interchange will be able to handle that traffic."
SBT: What sort of adjustments?
Reinbold: "Well, there are some areas you have to have three lanes instead of two lanes, so we’ll need to widen bridges and we know where that is and there’s space to do it. But we’re not building this to accommodate an eight-lane freeway, because that wasn’t part of the environmental scope of this project. The environmental document is that this interchange is being designed to handle traffic from a six-lane freeway. That’s what we got consensus to do. There’s still not consensus to go to eight lanes."
SBT: Why is this project needed? Is it a matter of the interchange is deteriorating, is it traffic problems, or is it both?
Reinbold: "What really forces a project in the state of Wisconsin is the physical condition of the facility. That’s usually No. 1. Another priority is safety. What happened with the Marquette Interchange is we’ve got some serious problems with the bridges. They’re at the end of their life. If we don’t replace this interchange, we’re going to have to close it to trucks, because we have some serious deficiencies with these bridges.
"That’s why it’s imperative that we start now. Because if we would close it to trucks, that would be disastrous to the economy of Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin and even the entire state. In addition to the condition of the bridges, the geometrics don’t work. There’s a lot of congestion in the Marquette interchange because of the left-hand entrances and exits. You have a lot of cross-lane weaving, cars merging back and forth to enter and leave the freeway. That causes congestion."
SBT: Why did they put exit lanes on the left when the interchange was built?
Reinbold: "If we would only have the 150,000 vehicles a day that it was designed to handle, it would work fine. But we’re at 300,000 vehicles a day, so it doesn’t work very well. Just think about when you are driving on an arterial street in the city, if you want to make a left turn, you get in the left lane and you turn left.
"If you figure when they started (building the interchange), drivers in the 50s and 60s were going from arterial streets to freeways, it really made a lot of sense to them. Now, with the amount of traffic there, it gets really confusing, because now you’ve got slow-moving trucks or vehicles that are exiting and entering in a high-speed lane, and you really want to get all of those decision-makers over in the right lane so your left lanes are your through lanes."
SBT: How long do you think the interchange will last after it’s rebuilt? Will it last longer than the original?
Reinbold: "Yes it will. We are designing it for a 75-year life. The previous interchange was designed for a 40-year life."
SBT: What’s the capacity in terms of what this is designed to handle? Is it designed to handle the capacity you have now or is it designed beyond that?
Reinbold: "That’s a tough question in some respects. We’re designing this interchange to handle traffic from a six-lane freeway, three lanes in each direction. Will it handle more traffic? Yes, but you can’t put any more traffic through the interchange during rush hours because each lane will only handle 2,000 vehicles per lane per hour.
"And because Milwaukee only built 60 percent of the freeways that it originally planned for, some of the ramps here need two lanes instead of one, because we’ve got traffic going in directions that wasn’t originally anticipated."
SBT: What types of materials are you using for this project?
Reinbold: "We’re using the best materials available. Some of the bridges will be pre-stress concrete girder. Some will be steel I-girders. Some will be steel box girders. We’re going to use high-performance concrete. We’re going to be using coated bar steels. Some of the pavement is going to be asphalt. That will also have a 75-year design life. We’re using all of the best knowledge we have available to design this."
SBT: The price of steel has been going up lately. Is that affecting your costs at all?
Reinbold: "Yes, it does and we’re watching it. Even if you don’t have steel girder bridges, even in your concrete girder bridges we have a lot pre-stressing and post tensioning strands in there, so there’s a lot of steel in all of the bridges, even the concrete girder bridges. And even in your concrete decks, you have steel reinforcing bars. There are some things we can do. If it may help the project, it may work for us to buy steel early. But I think the steel prices have peaked."
SBT: So is that going to cause a problem in meeting the budget?
Reinbold: "It could. We’re watching that to see how that goes, and we’re continuing to look for cost-saving measures. Every month or so, our engineers are re-doubling their efforts to find cost savings, and we have. We keep updating our estimates every quarter to see where we are. And we’re still on track to stay within our budget."
SBT: What’s happening right now with the project?
Reinbold : "Right now, we’re out here doing preliminary work for the utilities on Clybourn Street and 16th Street. We Energies is relocating some steam lines. We are completing our final engineering. This July, we will let several projects that will be worth about $100 million. When Clybourn Street opens this fall, then we will close Wells Street, and we’ll start replacing Wells Street over I-43 and then the entrance into the Kilbourn Tunnel."
SBT: When this project is all done, do you expect traffic to flow better? How is the driving experience going to change?
Reinbold: "The driving experience will be much better because the road is going to be much more efficient. You won’t have all of that cross-freeway weaving. With that, it’s going to be safer, so it will be a much easier drive."
May 14, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI