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Massive Zoo Interchange reconstruction hits halfway mark

ZooJune2_klh A crew with Walsh Construction lowers a beam into position Wednesday, June 8 over West Schlinger Ave. in Milwaukee. The beams will one day support southbound traffic on Interstate 894 and is part of the long term in the Zoo Interchange project. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

A crew with Walsh Construction lowers a beam into position over West Schlinger Avenue as work continues on the Zoo Interchange project on June 8. Officials marked the halfway point of the project on Thursday with the opening of the on-ramp leading to Interstate 94 from a part of 84th Street just north of the Pettit National Ice Center. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Fittingly for a project whose core phases have moved ahead even while other major highway work in Wisconsin has seen delays, a Corvette was the first vehicle to use a new Zoo Interchange on-ramp leading to Interstate 94 from a part of 84th Street just north of the Pettit National Ice Center.

Minutes after the sports car barreled down the new concrete roadway, Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials and other local leaders heralded the ramp’s opening Thursday as marking the end of work stemming from the first bids let for the $1.7 billion reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange, which lies just west of Milwaukee’s downtwon.

Steve Baas, senior vice president with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, made yet another analogy between sports cars and the state’s busiest meeting point for interstate highways.

“Just like when we saw that Corvette go and be the first car going down the new ramp, (this project) makes things full-speed ahead for Wisconsin and the metro Milwaukee economy,” Baas said.

Overseeing the roughly $200 million worth of work stemming from the first bids let for the Zoo Interchange reconstruction was a joint venture made up of Lunda Construction Co., of Black River Falls; Edgerton Contractors Inc., of Oak Creek; and Michaels Corp., of Brownsville, according to WisDOT officials. This phase of the project called for rebuilding the ramps that connect I-94 to Interstate 894, a bridge on 92nd Street and a bridge on Bluemound Road, as well as adding a ramp to connect Interstate 41 to I-94.

Though that contract entailed a lot of work, it is actually not the biggest associated with the Zoo Interchange construction. The second phase’s contract is even bigger, calling for $300 million worth of work.

Mark Gottlieb, WisDOT secretary, called it “the largest single construction contract in the history of (the department).”

The Zoo Interchange was largely built in the 1960s, Gottlieb said. He said it has become worn and outdated after 50 years of nearly continuous use.

“These (projects) are all part of a long-range plan, really a once-in-a-generation effort that we’re leading to modernize the freeway system in southeastern Wisconsin,” he said.

Baas added that the state’s road system is an important part of its economy, which relies heavily on farming and manufacturing. These industries cannot thrive without having an easy means of moving their products from place to place.

“Take an economy like ours that is manufacturing-dependent … and (the interstate) allows us to take things we make and move them to markets nationally and internationally,” Baas said.

Thursday’s celebration meant the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project has reached its official halfway point. WisDOT officials noted, though, that work tied to the second contract is already underway.

The central parts of that second phase are scheduled to wrap in 2018, although the related reconstruction of U.S. Highway 45 north of the main work zone now is unlikely to be finished before 2020.

Clarification: The Zoo Interhcange’s core phases are proceeding according to schedule. The completion of its northern-most leg has been delayed by two years.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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