Regional transportation network looks to future

0414US41-MasonSt

From roads, airports and water, improvements to enhance moving goods and people in high gear

Story by Larry Avila, New North B2B editor

The idea of continuous improvement to never stop seeking ways to make something better has found its way into many business sectors.

Manufacturers have followed the ideology for years, studying methods to find efficiencies while raising quality to reduce costs. The health care sector also has been adopting and shaping its own processes to keep expenses down and improve care delivery.

The same can be said for transportation networks. Roads and highways annually undergo maintenance while at the same time aged sections of the network are redesigned and rebuilt to improve safety and accommodate growing traffic demands.

But moving goods over land is just part of the puzzle. Finishing a product may require flying someone in with the expertise to troubleshoot a problem or building something may utilize a massive volume of raw materials that it can only be shipped via a lake freighter.

The overall investment in transportation networks is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but economic development experts say routine maintenance as well as upgrading is essential to keep northeast Wisconsin competitive in a global marketplace.

An improved U.S. Highway 41 not only will enhance the ability to move goods and people in and out of northeast Wisconsin, but make doing business easier within the region, said Joe Reitemeier, president and CEO of the Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce.

“The intent of the (U.S. 41) project is to be able to move goods and services at a much more convenient and expedient pace,” he said. “It also creates more synergy in the region by making it more convenient to travel between Fond du Lac and Green Bay … borders between communities can be reached within an hour, so conducting business will be more convenient and create a much stronger economic region.”

Busy time for U.S. 41

Work along the span of U.S. 41 that runs through the Fox Valley began in 2009. Some of the most noticeable work initially was through Winnebago County around Oshkosh, which included lane widening, new bridge and overpass construction as well as updated interchanges featuring roundabouts.

With the exception of new overpasses being built at County Road GG and County Y, the major construction activity is finished in Winnebago County, said Mark Kantola, U.S. 41/WIS 441 project communication manager for the state Department of Transportation.

The state now has turned its attention toward improvements to U.S. 41 in Brown County.

“The exciting thing for 2014 is that this will be the busiest year for construction for the entire (U.S. 41) project, meaning this season motorists will see the most staging barrels, the most workers and most cranes in Brown County,” Kantola said. Several Brown County interchanges are being rebuilt including at Interstate 43, State Road 29, Lineville Road and Waube Lane/Oneida Street.

A major component to the U.S. 41 project in Brown County, expected to be finished this summer, will be new fly-over ramps at WIS 29 and U.S. 41, Kantola said. Updating this interchange was important because the span of highway between Mason Street and Shawano Avenue handled northbound traffic of roughly 37,000 vehicles daily in 2005, according to the state, and is projected to reach 44,000 by next year and up to 57,600 vehicles every day by 2035.

There will be numerous lane closures and reconfigurations along U.S. 41 for the next three years in Brown County but in the end, motorists as well as businesses shipping goods in and out of the region will appreciate the upgrades.

“Economically, 41 is a major hub for commerce,” Kantola said. “So many goods and services are being transported to and from the Milwaukee area and many other points beyond that, so when you’re talking about economics, you’re talking about improving the main artery that moves goods and services to and from northeast Wisconsin.”

WIS 441-U.S. 10 interchange

Rebuilding the WIS 441-U.S. 10 interchange on U.S. 41 has been a long-sought project in the Fox Cities.

Grading work will begin this summer, which is the first stage in what likely will be a five-year reconstruction process for the interchange. Kantola said it also will include the construction of a new bridge over Little Lake Butte des Morts.

The project also will include expanding U.S. 10-WIS 441 from four to six lanes, a roughly six-mile stretch from Cold Spring Road to about a half-mile east of Oneida Street.

One additional advantage of the proposed upgrade is that it will allow traffic to enter and exit both stretches of freeway from all directions. Currently, traffic heading west on U.S 10 is unable to directly access U.S. 41 north, and northbound travelers on U.S. 41 are unable to exit on to U.S. 10 to head west.

The state expects construction to be finished by fall 2019.

WIS 47-U.S. 41 interchange

Work began in early March to improve the bridge at WIS 47 and U.S. 41 in Appleton.

Kantola said the bridge is being raised from 15 feet to 16 feet, nine inches. The bridge deck also will be widened and lanes reconfigured to accommodate biking and pedestrian lanes.

He said turn lanes also will be lengthened. The $4.2 million project is expected to be finished by October.

WIS 15 Greenville-Hortonville

Upgrading WIS 15 between New London and Hortonville is another long-sought project now underway.

A major component will expand 11 miles of WIS 15 to a four-lane divided highway, which will bypass the village of Hortonville. It also will feature roundabouts, one on each side of Hortonville.

William Bertrand, the state DOT design manager for the WIS 15 project, said there still is much work to do before construction on the estimated $139.5 million project begins in late 2018.

“We’re still acquiring the real estate needed and will move utilities, which we hope will be done by July,” he said.

The project is approved but lack of funds has delayed the start date, he said. That doesn’t mean other things cannot be done ahead of time, including buying land needed to accommodate the bypass around Hortonville.

“If we can get the funding earlier, we’d like to be as ready as possible,” Bertrand said.

When the project is finished, it will improve safety and reduce congestion, he said.

WIS 23, east of U.S. 151

(Fond du Lac) to County P (Plymouth)

The state Department of Transportation expects to move forward on enhancements to WIS 23, east of U.S. 151 in Fond du Lac to County P in Plymouth.

The nearly 20-mile stretch of roadway was designated as a 2030 corridor connector highway, meaning it’s considered “highly important” roadway by the state. State lawmakers selected this segment of WIS 23 to receive funding for improvements in 1999.

The objective for the project is to add capacity and increase safety by expanding the two-lane highway to a four-lane expressway. The state expects construction on the massive overhaul to begin sometime in 2015.

For 2014, about four miles of WIS 23 in Fond du Lac County will be resurfaced, starting at Log Tavern Road to the eastern county boarder. The project is scheduled to start in September and be completed by November.

Austin Straubel improvements

Growing business travel provided a boost to passenger traffic at Austin Straubel International Airport in Ashwaubenon in 2013, said Tom Miller, airport director. A total of 305,753 passengers boarded planes at Austin Straubel last year, a 3.6 percent increase from 295,028 enplanements a year earlier.

He said weather hindered commercial air service in January and February, but expects travel to increase in the spring.

Miller said increased passenger travel moved Delta Airlines to add a second daily non-stop flight to Atlanta. Delta also is expected to start bringing larger planes to Austin Straubel, including Boeing 717s and Airbus A319 and A320s, to accommodate its projected increased passenger loads.

He said United Airlines and American Airlines haven’t formally committed to adding more capacity this year but passenger traffic with those carriers also have increased from a year ago.

Charter travel is providing growth opportunities, Miller said. Airport officials in late March announced a $1 million plan to expand its eastern general aviation ramp another 65,000 square feet, connecting the airport’s primary taxiway to its main runway and will provide additional space to perform maintenance services. The state is providing 80 percent of the funding for the project, with the rest coming from the airport and Brown County. Miller said that project should be completed by July.

Miller said more than 400 charter aircraft cleared U.S. customs in Green Bay in 2013, and the number continues rising. This is behind the push for a new international terminal, which will be built just east of the existing terminal.

The new international terminal, which has a cost of $3 million, will be done in two phases, Miller said. U.S. Customs still must approve the facility’s design but the hope is the project can be bid out by mid-summer.

Outagamie airport update

Outagamie County Regional Airport in Greenville saw passenger air travel increase in 2013.

Outagamie airport recorded 243,173 passengers boarding planes in 2013, up 6.3 percent from 228,737 in 2013.

Abe Weber, director of the Outagamie airport, said United added daily flights to Chicago in February.

Outagamie County airport also is expected to get a new name by 2015. It either will be called Appleton International Airport or simply Appleton Airport. Whether it can include “international” in its name will depend on the airport gaining approval from U.S. Customs to become a port of entry. If granted, the airport’s warehousing and shipping services would be enhanced and it would be able to clear bonded shipments as well as store secured shipments, Weber said.

Weber said Outagamie airport officials have discussed its plans with area businesses that may benefit from the added services. There still are steps to be taken before plans can be drawn up and bids released for a general aviation facility to accommodate U.S. Customs’ services.

Weber said a request must come from the governor’s office to U.S. Customs, showing the economic benefits the designation would bring to the airport. Weber said the airport has identified an existing site on its property, which could be rehabilitated at an estimated cost of between $1.5 million and $2 million to accommodate U.S. Customs’ requirements. He said it likely would cost $215,000 annually to operate the facility, which likely would be funded by airport users and the communities and businesses who utilized the services.

Weber said approval from U.S. Customs would provide a boost to the airport and the region.

“It gives users in the region a second option (beyond Green Bay),” he said. “We want to be able to go to the federal government and say the business community needs this, but overall anyone who is accessing northeast Wisconsin, it gives them a second choice of entry.”

Outagamie airport also plans to enhance its general aviation services by adding pavement to accommodate more charter planes.

Weber said the airport made numerous improvements in its passenger terminal the past year, including upgrading the dining area and renaming it the Fox Cities Eatery. It features local products through partnerships with area businesses including brat-maker Johnsonville, Victor Allen coffee in Little Chute, Vern’s Cheese from Chilton, and Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton.

Port use grows

Demand for raw materials in northeast Wisconsin in 2013 translated to a busy shipping season for the Port of Green Bay.

The port recorded 1.83 million tons of cargo coming into the port in 2013, up 19 percent from 1.54 million tons in 2012.

Dean Haen, director of port and resource recovery for Brown County, said salt has been in high demand in recent months, not just for use to melt snow and ice on roads, but in other manufacturing processes.

“(Salt) is one commodity used by everyone for everything from canning to papermaking,” he said.

But increased port activity overall the past year is an indicator regional manufacturers are busy.

“As we see increase in demand for materials, it serves as an indicator that the economy is good in northeast Wisconsin,” Haen said. An early winter closed port traffic two weeks early this past December, Haen said. The port traditionally closes for the season around Christmas.

Nobel Petro Inc. will be rejoining the 13 other active terminal operators in the Port of Green Bay, he said. Haen said the company plans to update its dock. He said construction could begin in May, but the company likely won’t begin shipping until 2015.