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90 percent of Milwaukee streetcar tracks completed

Contractors build a streetcar passenger platform on Friday along Milwaukee Street at Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. Officials overseeing the project say 90 percent of the tracks have been laid. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Contractors build a streetcar passenger platform on Friday along Milwaukee Street at Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. Officials overseeing the project say 90 percent of the tracks have been laid. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Ninety percent of the Milwaukee streetcar tracks have been put in place, thanks in part to favorable weather conditions in recent months, say officials involved with the 2.5-mile construction project.

During a Friday meeting of an ad-hoc committee charged with overseeing the $124 million project, city officials praised the aggressive pace at which construction has progressed on the streetcar.

“I do want to commend (construction manager Kiewit Corp.) and the rest of the construction crew for accomplishing a phenomenal amount of work during the season,” Ghassan Korban, commissioner of Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works, said at the Joint Committee on Downtown Streetcar Implementation meeting. “It’s fair to say that we probably shrunk two seasons’ worth of work into (one).”

The relatively warm fall and a late ground freeze are also to thank. The mild conditions allowed crews to lay tracks along Kilbourn Avenue, city engineer Jeff Polenske said following the meeting’s conclusion.

Polenske said the work along that street was originally scheduled to take place in the spring. Laying the track there ahead of time does not move up the overall completion date of the project, but it does mean there will be less construction work disrupting traffic next year, he said. The streetcar’s downtown loop is slated to open for operations by the end of 2018.

Mike Ethier, a project manager with Kiewit, said crews were busy this season.

“We were able to get a ton of work done,” he said.

Among the completed work he highlighted for committee members on Friday included track installation at the intersection of Broadway and St. Paul Avenue just south of downtown in the Historic Third Ward neighborhood.

“It’s going to be a very busy intersection for the streetcar,” he said. “Obviously it’s a very high-profile spot in the city as well. So the tracks are in and the road reconstructed there, so that’s a big piece of work done.”

Crews were also able to set track turnouts along Milwaukee Street where it intersects with Clybourn and Michigan streets. These turnouts will tie into what will eventually be the lakefront line, which heads east toward where downtown meets Lake Michigan. Workers also placed track, finished repaving work and installed poles and overhead wiring along Ogden Street, Ethier said.

Some bridgework is also slated to be performed in January, Polenske said.

In all, workers managed to finish building 10 of the 17 platforms along the streetcar route, and all but one of the 213 overhead-catenary-system foundations were completed this year, Carolynn Gellings, construction manager with Milwaukee-based Daar Engineering, told committee members. Daar Engineering has contracted with the city to help oversee the project.

Project officials also reported the streetcar has so far exceeded its resident-hiring goal.

Through October, the project has employed workers certified through Milwaukee’s Residents Preference Program to perform 44 percent of all construction-labor hours. The goal on the project is 40 percent.

In addition, the city expects to receive its first streetcar vehicle sometime in the first quarter of 2018, and is scheduled to begin vehicle testing in March.

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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