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WisDOT focuses on interchange inch counts (UPDATE)

The Zoo Interchange bridge. (Photo by John Krejci)

Milwaukee Constructors LLC, the winning bidder for emergency repairs to the Zoo Interchange, will demolish three bridges at an estimated cost of $685,000. The new bridge structures will raise the clearance a few inches, allowing more leeway for oversized trucks. (Photo by John Krejci)

By Sean Ryan

Milwaukee Constructors LLC, in its proposal to fix the Zoo Interchange, suggested the state save money by sparing the damaged bridges from demolition.

That’s not going to happen.

The existing bridges have to go because they are too low and sometimes get hit by passing trucks, said Paul Trombino, Wisconsin Department of Transportation division operations director.

Milwaukee/Emergency Bridge Repairs

“Obviously, when we get a bridge hit, especially in an interchange,” he said, “obviously it’s a hazard for anyone that’s driving.”

Milwaukee Constructors will build new bridges to replace the three damaged structures, which will not carry traffic after the project. The joint venture of three contractors proposed putting nets on the old bridges to catch crumbling concrete until the entire Zoo Interchange reconstruction begins.

But the old bridges are only 14 feet 1 inch to 14 feet 10 inches above the highway lanes. The new bridges would leave more room below, but truckers would not benefit from the additional height unless the old bridges are demolished.

“We feel confident we can gain a few inches,” Trombino said, “and that can help us quite a bit.”

Trombino said demolishing the bridges also will save the cost of future maintenance.

Milwaukee Constructors estimates demolishing the bridges will cost $685,000. The new structures, according to the proposal, would be 15 feet high.

Raising the three Zoo Interchange bridges is only one step toward solving a bigger problem, said Wayne Kokta, transportation manager for DST Inc., a sister company to Dawes Rigging and Crane Rental Inc., West Allis. Those bridges are a part of a broken network of routes truckers must maneuver to make deliveries, he said.

Trucks with large loads cannot drive on roads if, for example, there are low railroad bridges, weight limits or power lines overhead, Kokta said.

The route limits lead to delays for DST when delivering construction gear to projects, Kokta said. The irony is the highways can delay work on highway projects, he said.

“Especially if you are going any distance at all and you’ve got a height issue,” Kokta said, “all you need is one bridge in your way, and you have to go miles out of your way.”

State law forbids any truck taller than 13 feet 6 inches from driving on highways, and the limit will never go up if bridges aren’t built higher off the ground, Kokta said. National manufacturer associations are asking for almost 30-foot clearances, roughly double what the new Zoo bridges will create, he said.

“It looks like the state is at least taking a step in the right direction,” Kokta said, “although I would like it to be a larger step.”

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