Connecting Commerce

cloverleaf1012

An update of the various improvements to transportation infrastructure in northeast Wisconsin that help the economy thrive

Story by Lee Marie Reinsch

October 2012

 

It’s true what they say about seasons in Wisconsin: There are only two  winter and road construction.

But in recent years, these seasons seem to be overlapping. Leaves start to turn colors before the autumnal equinox. Tulips bloom when it’s still winter. And road construction season happens during spring, summer, fall and winter.

It’s natural to mutter about single-lane traffic and dodging chartreuse-clad crews. But have we ever thought what it would be like without decent modes into (and out of) our neck of the northeastern woods of Wisconsin? Business and community leaders say it’s critical.

“A good transportation system is absolutely essential for a healthy economy in any region,” said Allen Buechel, Fond du Lac County Executive. “The many businesses in the region and those who look to this region for further expansion always look at the transportation system – not only highways, but airports, railroads and in some cases, ports. These facilities move people, and even more importantly, they move commerce.”

So if April showers bring May flowers, then a constant stream of “DETOUR” signs must bring future economic fuel.

Fall color tour

One of the most colorful and obvious examples of construction in full bloom is the U.S. Highway 41 Corridor Project. If you’ve made the scenic tour between Fond du Lac and Green Bay lately, you’ve seen its colorful spectacle: tawny-gold cranes, pumpkin-hued “LANE CLOSED” banners and flocks of large yellow-breasted birds wearing hardhats.

Following is a sampler list of some of the orange-barreled endeavors that are happening right now, recently happened or will be happening in northeast Wisconsin.

 

U.S. Highway 41 Corridor Project Winnebago and Brown counties

The project: The gist of this whopper – a stretch of 17 miles in Winnebago County and 14 miles in Brown County, plus the slew of interchanges and roads leading up to these interchanges – is to widen U.S. 41 from four lanes to primarily eight lanes, bringing the road up to interstate standards. In some spots, U.S. 41 could have six lanes, and in others, up to 10, depending on location, according to Eric Gwidt, construction project manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The festivities involve rebuilding 13 interchanges and updating three others, adding 40 roundabouts, installing 17 traffic cameras, and expanding the Lake Butte des Morts Causeway to eight lanes.

Once the region’s critical artery is brought up to speed, it can be designated as an “Interstate,” but that status is still a few years off, according to Gwidt.

Timeline: Winnebago County’s share of the U.S. 41 renovation began in 2009 and is on schedule to wrap up by the end of 2013.

Brown County’s part of the project didn’t start until last year, so those negotiating traffic through it will have to grin and bear it through 2016, at least.

Price tag: $1.5 billion for both the Winnebago and Brown County portions of U.S. 41. Outagamie County was done several years ago and isn’t part of the current project.

 Why it’s needed? The idea is to expand U.S. 41 to meet future traffic needs, Gwidt said. “The majority of this roadway was built in the 1960s and 1970s, and a lot of things are outdated in design and functionality,” he said. “They’re just not working for today’s standards.”

At the time of the highway’s construction, much of the travel on U.S. 41 stemmed from an agricultural and manufacturing economy.

How will the New North region benefit? The advantages of such a project are a much safer highway and the ability to get to and from places quicker and safer because of improved interchanges.

“Commerce will move a lot cleaner, and industry will be able to move products a lot more efficiently,” Gwidt said. “Once we get an interstate here, that’s a huge designation – it brings a lot of commerce and attracts a lot of people. If you can build next to an interstate, that’s a huge thing.”

Up-to-date details on the U.S. 41 project can be found at www.us41wisconsin.gov; on Twitter at #WisconsinUS41, on Facebook at facebook.com/WisconsinUS41 or by calling the U.S. 41 Project Hotline at 920.492.4120.

Leo Frigo Bridge Project Green Bay

Where: Interstate 43/Leo Frigo Bridge over the Fox River in Green Bay

The project: Involves improvement of the mighty Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge and a 3.5-mile stretch of I-43 between Military Avenue on the west and Irwin Avenue on the east. Three bridges, including Leo Frigo – also known as the Tower Drive Bridge – will be repaired, fresh pavement will be put in where the old is crumbling, and interchanges will be improved.

Price tag: $17 million.

Timeline: Underway now and expected to finish by July 2013.

Why it’s needed? This project is part of the U.S. 41 Corridor project.

How will the New North benefit? Part of the national highway system, I-43 is considered a “Long Truck Route” and connects northeast Wisconsin to the southeastern portion of the state, especially cities like Milwaukee along Lake Michigan.

Velp Avenue Green Bay

Where: Velp Avenue (U.S. Highway 141) reconstruction in Green Bay.

The project: Over the last two years, nearly three miles of U.S. 141/Velp Avenue were revamped top to bottom.

In 2011, $3.2 million worth of renovations on a one-mile span from Military Avenue to U.S. 41 in the Village of Howard included a two-lane roundabout at the Velp and Military intersection, along with replacing pavement, adding sidewalk and bicycle accommodations, better street lighting and landscaping, according to Kristin Van Hout of the state DOT.

In 2012, $6.1 million bought the same for a 1.7-mile segment of Velp from Norwood Avenue to Military in Green Bay, with a roundabout at the Atkinson/Velp intersection.

Price tag: $9.3 million

Why it’s needed? The pavement dated from the early 1950s and was deteriorating, as were storm sewers. Intersections were at skewed angles, which created safety issues, Van Hout said.

“The ride on the pavement had been really difficult, and this is a new facility with a smoother ride, safer pedestrian areas and wider lanes for bicycles,” she said. The landscaping and a large grass median will help make this part of town more aesthetically pleasing.

“Hopefully, this will revitalize that area, as it was slightly run down over years,” Van Hout said.

How will the region benefit? “Velp is a critical link between the Port of Green Bay and access onto I-43 and U.S. 41, so it’s a good link there for the city,” she said.

Bypassing Hortonville

Where: State Road 15 expansion and bypass around the Village of Hortonville.

Project: An 11-mile stretch of WIS 15 between New London at U.S. Highway 45 and Greenville at Lily of the Valley Drive, with a 3.5-mile northern bypass of Hortonville. It includes making this portion of WIS 15 into a four-lane highway with a 60-foot wide median, according to Bill Bertrand, project manager for WISDOT. Roundabouts will be installed at the two at-grade intersections where WIS 15 and the bypass will meet.

Price tag: $115 million

Timeline: WISDOT will begin buying real estate in the areas involved in 2014, and construction will start in late 2016 or early 2017, Bertrand said. The project could wrap up by late 2018 or 2019.

Why it’s needed? Traffic counts from 2007 showed that between 12,000 and 16,500 vehicles travel this stretch daily, and it’s predicted that number will reach 20,000 by 2025, making the trek congested.

Also, WISDOT says the bypass will make this stretch safer. Currently, cars are hopping on to WIS 15 from a slew of intersections, and a bypass will let truckers and non-local drivers continue uninterrupted.

“The bypass of Hortonville will allow traffic to drive at highway speed,” Bertrand said.

How will the region benefit? The bypass will make the trip between New London and the Fox Cities shorter and faster, meaning travelers will save fuel, according to WISDOT.

Wrightstown Bridge

Where: State Road 96 reconstruction and new bridge in the Village of Wrightstown.

The project: Involves building a new bridge over the Fox River about 100 feet to the south of the existing bridge. It will have bicycle, pedestrian and snowmobile accommodation and will be bookended by single-lane roundabouts.

Resurfacing of WIS 96 from County Road D/Shanty Road to Old 57 started this fall and should be finished within the next month. Water and sewer-main replacement, along with other utility work, will be done in 2013 in the area of Greenleaf as well as Wrightstown, according to Natasha Gwidt, project manager for WIS DOT.

The eight-mile project also involves:

  • An urban reconstruction project from the Fair Road/Turner Street intersection to Shanty Road in Wrightstown during the 2014 construction season;
  • New pavement, curb and gutter on WIS 96 outside of town from Old 57 to Breckenridge Falls Road.

Price tag: $23 million for the bridge; $6.4 million for the various road projects that don’t directly include the bridge.

Timeline: Spring of 2014, with everything complete by fall of 2016.

Why it’s needed? The bridge is about 75 years old and beyond the point of repair, and the stretches of WIS 96 around it are in need of help, too, Natasha Gwidt said.

How traffic will be affected: The old bridge will remain open right up until the opening of the new one. “There will never be a time when people can’t get over the river,” she said.

How the region benefits? The WIS 96 bridge is Wrightstown’s only means of crossing the Fox River. Without it, those wishing to cross the Fox would have to go to De Pere 10 miles north or Kaukauna seven miles to the south. Some 6,000 to 9,000 vehicles use the bridge every day, and 11 out of every 100 of those using the WIS 96 corridor are trucks, Natasha Gwidt said. It may not sound like a lot, but it’s a substantial percentage of truckers, she said.

State Road 23 Fond du Lac and Sheboygan counties

Where: WIS 23 between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac.

The project: This is an expansion of the current two-lane highway to a four-lane expressway from just west of Plymouth to U.S. Highway 151 in Fond du Lac, a total of about 22 miles.

Price tag: $76 million

Timeline: Start date in 2014. The project was originally slated for late 2012.

WISDOT’s Eric Danke said every leg of the project has been delayed by at least a year because of a lawsuit filed against the state Department of Transportation by land-use group 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. At this point the schedule is:

  • The first and eastern-most leg of the project, from Pioneer Road in Plymouth to the Sheboygan/Fond du Lac County line, is slated for 2014.
  • The second (middle) segment of the project, from the county line to Taft Road in Fond du Lac, is slated to begin in 2015.
  • The third and westernmost section, from Taft Road to U.S. 151, is slated for 2016.

Why it’s needed? The road needs to accommodate more traffic, Danke said. By 2030, around 20,000 vehicles a day are on track to travel this stretch, according to WISDOT, with “moderate congestion” predicted by 2020.

“Currently as a two-lane roadway, there aren’t a lot of (passing zones) available due to the numerous hills, curves, and accesses along the route,” Danke said. “There are a number of trucks and farm machinery that take this route between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan, and the added lanes should allow vehicles to get around them in a much safer manner.”

How will the New North benefit? The route would be safer and travel would be quicker, so in theory, tourism could rise if more travelers decide to change their travel plans to include WIS 23 instead of taking an alternate route, according to WISDOT. Economic development could likewise reap rewards.

WIS 29 West of Green Bay

Where: State Road 29 through Hobart and Howard in Outagamie and Brown counties.

The project: WIS 29 will be converted from an expressway into a freeway, which mainly means regulating access from side roads onto WIS 29.

The project involves building interchanges at two spots, County Roads VV and FF, and overpasses at County Road U and Pine Tree Road. The intersections at Sunlite Drive and Woodland Road will be closed.

Timeline: Underway now.

Why it’s needed? According to WISDOT, WIS 29 is the busiest east-west highway north of Interstate 94, with a large amount of truck traffic. Converting it to a freeway will make it safer than it is now.

How will the region benefit? WIS 29 is considered to be the main route across the north central part of the state, linking Green Bay to I-94 and Minneapolis/St. Paul. The changes will also mean easier linking on to and off of U.S. 41.

Air and Sea Appleton and Green Bay

Where: Velp Avenue (U.S. Highway 141) reconstruction in Green Bay.

The project: Over the last two years, nearly three miles of U.S. 141/Velp Avenue were revamped top to bottom.

In 2011, $3.2 million worth of renovations on a one-mile span from Military Avenue to U.S. 41 in the Village of Howard included a two-lane roundabout at the Velp and Military intersection, along with replacing pavement, adding sidewalk and bicycle accommodations, better street lighting and landscaping, according to Kristin Van Hout of the state DOT.

In 2012, $6.1 million bought the same for a 1.7-mile segment of Velp from Norwood Avenue to Military in Green Bay, with a roundabout at the Atkinson/Velp intersection.

Price tag: $9.3 million

Why it’s needed? The pavement dated from the early 1950s and was deteriorating, as were storm sewers. Intersections were at skewed angles, which created safety issues, Van Hout said.

“The ride on the pavement had been really difficult, and this is a new facility with a smoother ride, safer pedestrian areas and wider lanes for bicycles,” she said. The landscaping and a large grass median will help make this part of town more aesthetically pleasing.

“Hopefully, this will revitalize that area, as it was slightly run down over years,” Van Hout said.

How will the region benefit? “Velp is a critical link between the Port of Green Bay and access onto I-43 and U.S. 41, so it’s a good link there for the city,” she said.

Where: State Road 15 expansion and bypass around the Village of Hortonville.

Project: An 11-mile stretch of WIS 15 between New London at U.S. Highway 45 and Greenville at Lily of the Valley Drive, with a 3.5-mile northern bypass of Hortonville. It includes making this portion of WIS 15 into a four-lane highway with a 60-foot wide median, according to Bill Bertrand, project manager for WISDOT. Roundabouts will be installed at the two at-grade intersections where WIS 15 and the bypass will meet.

Price tag: $115 million

Timeline: WISDOT will begin buying real estate in the areas involved in 2014, and construction will start in late 2016 or early 2017, Bertrand said. The project could wrap up by late 2018 or 2019.

Why it’s needed? Traffic counts from 2007 showed that between 12,000 and 16,500 vehicles travel this stretch daily, and it’s predicted that number will reach 20,000 by 2025, making the trek congested.

Also, WISDOT says the bypass will make this stretch safer. Currently, cars are hopping on to WIS 15 from a slew of intersections, and a bypass will let truckers and non-local drivers continue uninterrupted.

“The bypass of Hortonville will allow traffic to drive at highway speed,” Bertrand said.

How will the region benefit? The bypass will make the trip between New London and the Fox Cities shorter and faster, meaning travelers will save fuel, according to WISDOT.

 

ATW Outagamie County Airport

The future new general aviation terminal at Outagamie County Regional Airport in Greenville isn’t just special because it’s new.

“It would be the first (zero net-energy) efficient aviation terminal in the country, so we’re pretty excited,” said Marty Lenss, airport director. Zero net energy means it produces as much energy as it uses.

The project consists of an 8,000-sq. ft. terminal and a 12,000-sq. ft. hangar and is estimated to cost about $5 million.

When it’s finished, it will be charged by geothermal and photovoltaic power systems and will be equipped with cisterns to collect rainwater.

It’ll also run on a smart automation system, which means that if it’s bright enough outside, it will be smart enough to not turn on the electric lights.

The new terminal will serve an added function:

“It’s also the first and last impression visitors have of our community,” Lenss said. “For folks doing business here (and who) have come in on private aircraft, this is the building they’ll see and pass through. It’s important that we demonstrate a nice functional facility so their first impression when they come to the Fox Cities or northeast Wisconsin through ATW is a nice, lasting impression.”

Lenss is also proud that ATW is paying off its mortgage five years early. Last fall, ATW made the last of its $4 million bond repayments from its 2001 commercial terminal project. The early payoff saved $234,000 in interest.

“It was nice to get that expense off our books,” Lenss said. “Now we have more flexibility.”

Port of Green Bay ready to rock

Business at the Port of Green Bay this year is ahead of usual – a wee bit ahead, but ahead, nonetheless. Port Manager Dean Haen said he’s ready to forge ahead with long-term plans for Lake Michigan’s westernmost port.

Those plans include developing an intermodal container facility, expanding the port’s foreign trade zone, developing port property, and figuring out how material dredged up from the bay might be reused.

“Intermodal container facility” is engineer-speak for a site that would be equipped to load, unload and store those large metal containers that go on trucks, ships and trains. Having such a facility would open the port as a viable transportation option to many businesses, according to Haen.

“The port would definitely become a major player, and this would give us a competitive edge.”

Developing port land would likely require lots of dredging, so finding ways to recycle what’s dredged up is important.

“Not only would re-purposing dredge material help with shipping-channel maintenance and storage, it would provide a cost-effective and sustainable resource for things like road projects or gardening and lawn products,” Haen said.

More than 200 ships move 2 million tons of cargo a year to and from 14 businesses along the three-mile stretch of the Fox River. Salt, coal, limestone, liquid asphalt and other petroleum products are among the materials transported, along with big machinery and parts for wind turbines.

As of August, the port handled 2,000 tons more cargo this year than it did last year at the same time.

Austin Straubel International Airport 

Officials at Green Bay’s Austin Straubel International Airport are proud of their latest addition: the state-of-the-art LEED gold-certified snow-removal equipment facility.

“It will help us more efficiently remove snow from the runways and taxiways, making it more likely that commercial and corporate aircraft will be able to get in and out of the area during inclement weather,” said Tom Miller, airport director.

Austin Straubel also wrapped up a new facility for aircraft rescue, emergency medical services and firefighting on the largely undeveloped west side of the airport.

“The aircraft rescue and firefighter facility will provide faster response in the event of an emergency on the airfield,” he said.

It’s hoped that the space that housed the former emergency services building will make way for a new U.S. Customs facility.

“We will be working on that in 2013 to establish a full-fledged federal inspection station at Austin Straubel,” Miller said.

Austin Straubel has a small customs facility, but it’s not staffed fulltime and wouldn’t be able to keep up with an increase in traffic, according to Miller.

Design work for the inspection station is underway, and Miller said he hopes the year-long construction will start sometime in late spring.

Lee Reinsch writes and edits from Green Bay.