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State deems work on I-94 north-south project ‘substantially complete’

Traffic passes in July through a section of Interstate 94 that’s being rebuilt near Mount Pleasant. Republican lawmakers on Wednesday began circulating about a dozen bills dealing with transportation matters. Among other things, the proposals would allow design-build delivery on state projects. Also, rather than increasing the state’s gas tax, the legislation would have a certain amount of the taxes now collected on sales of vehicles and automotive parts set aside for the state’s transportation fund. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

Cars and trucks travel Interstate 94 near Mount Pleasant in July 2019. WisDOT officials deemed work on a 18.5 stretch of the interstate in Milwaukee and Racine counties “substantially complete” this week. That capped off a $1.9 billion project to rebuild I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois border, adding two lanes to the interstate’s previous total of six. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

WisDOT has wrapped up its long-awaited reconstruction of Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line on schedule and on budget.

Michael Pyritz, regional communications manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s southeast region, said work on the final 18.5-mile stretch of the reconstruction project was deemed “substantially complete” earlier this week. He said WisDOT’s goal all along was to have that section finished by the start of summer.

He also said the project, which was overseen by Michels Corp., appears to have remained within the department’s $410 million project or even come in below it, although some work such as landscaping and installing sound walls remains to be done. The 18.5-mile stretch deemed substantially complete this week runs from College Avenue in Milwaukee County to State Highway 142.

It’s part of a larger, 35-mile section of the highway the state has been rebuilding and adding lanes to – bringing the total to four in each direction – since 2009. One of the first jobs undertaken as part of it was the $270 million reconstruction of the Mitchell Interchange near General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. In the ensuing years, work proceeded slowly on various aspects of the $1.9 billion project, mainly the reconstruction of frontage roads and other interchanges.

But with the state’s transportation revenue lagging because of declining gas-tax collections, state officials at times came to despair that the actual work of rebuilding the interstate would begin any time soon. That all changed with announcement, in 2017, that Foxconn Technology Group would be building a massive factory in Mount Pleasant and the state’s subsequent receipt of a $160 million federal INFRA grant. Suddenly the completion for the interstate – seen as a major artery leading to and from the Foxconn plant – was moved up from 2032 to 2021

State officials later pushed their completion date ahead even more, in part to have the project finished in time for Milwaukee’s plans to play host to Democratic National Convention, an event now cast in doubt by the coronavirus outbreak. In pursuing so aggressive a schedule, WisDOT exposed itself to criticism that it was pursuing speed at the price of safety. The I-94 north-south project was marred by some spectacular crashes, including in which two semi drivers were killed after their vehicles caught fire following a crash into a construction barrier.

In the end, though, the department was able to wrap up its work on the last section in two years. That, according to WisDOT Secretary-designee Craig Thompson, is the fastest completion time recorded in state history for a so-called mega-project.

About Dan Shaw, [email protected]

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 414-225-1807.

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