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I-43, Port Washington Road reconstruction projects advance, business owner says opportunities for improvement with communication

New I-43 Highland Road interchange that was built last year and opened last fall. Photo Credit: Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation

The new I-43 Highland Road interchange that was built last year and opened last fall. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation)

When traveling on I-43 between downtown Milwaukee and the North Shore suburbs, it’s hard to not take notice of the large orange barrels and Jersey barriers filling what used to be a wide-open freeway.

Taking a parallel frontage road for the morning commute will not avoid the construction. For the past several months, officials continue to work on both I-43 in Milwaukee County and adjacent North Port Washington Road simultaneously, leaving commuters and business owners with new challenges that won’t be going away anytime soon.

The $550 million project is not expected to wrap up until mid-2025, said Dan Sellers, Southeast Region communications manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Although officials said they haven’t had any issues so far with the project, the same can’t be said for business owners.

“There is stress and congestion on Port Washington Road, but there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. We are trying to adopt the best we can. It doesn’t make sense for me to go outside there and yell at the rain,” said Jim Meinecke, owner of Ace Hardware in Glendale.

According to Meinecke, even though business has been impacted by the construction and his parking lot will be reduced by 16 feet, he remains optimistic.

“I think the end result will be worth it, but I won’t see that for another year,” Meinecke said.

In addition to the noise and vibration in the store from breaking up the concrete, Meinecke said that there is growing frustration among residents, customers and employees.

Some of that frustration stems from lack of communication and efficiency, he said.

“I can’t tell you the number of times Port Road has been torn up. Gas lines today. Water next week. There are a lot of moving parts. Not every player is communicating well with each other. Glendale is mainly handling the Port Washington Road portion and the State of Wisconsin is handling the interstate and they aren’t talking enough,” Meinecke said.

Glendale officials told The Daily Reporter that all questions about the project should be addressed to Rachel Andreoli, the Construction Public Involvement Lead with HNTB.

Andreoli declined to comment and said, “All questions need to be addressed by WisDOT.”

In WisDOT’s response, Sellers said, “Part of WisDOT’s I-43 North-South project includes improving the adjacent local roadways of Port Washington Road and Jean Nicolet Road. WisDOT is leading the effort and coordinating closely with the City of Glendale. There is a lot of complex utility work taking place with separate utilities, so WisDOT’s partnership and coordination with Glendale helps crews continue to make progress on these important community roads.”

WisDOT officials maintain things are off to a positive start.

“The project has maintained pretty steady progress as we enter into its second year. It will look to continue that by trying to anticipate any number of potential challenges before they arise,” Sellers said.

For those Bayside and Mequon drivers, officials say the Port Washington Road exit off of I-43 North will re-open soon — mid-Summer 2023, at a new location further north.

Meanwhile back in Glendale, the expansion of Port Washington Road “will eliminate the existing bottleneck, creating a continuous four-lane roadway,” Sellers said.

Currently there are four lanes north of Daphne Road and four lanes south of Bender Road, according to Sellers.

“The intersection of Port Washington Road and Clovernook Lane will be signalized as part of this work,” he added.

According to Sellers, there was large-scale public involvement meetings held throughout the study and design phases of the project, with large turn outs of hundreds of people at each meeting.

Additionally, “Hundreds of other individual meetings were held with private property and business owners to get their feedback. WisDOT received very valuable insight from these meetings, a lot of which was incorporated into the final design. In general, the stakeholders we talked with were very supportive of modernizing this critical Interstate link between southeast Wisconsin and the entire state,” Sellers said.

I-43 construction projects have not been a stranger to challenges.

Back in 2018 when the same Interstate was under construction several inches of rain fell which shutdown the interstate in both directions and required rescue efforts from the flooded Interstate.

For additional information on the current project, click here.

About Steve Schuster, [email protected]

Steve Schuster is the Managing Editor at Wisconsin Law Journal and The Daily Reporter. Previously Steve worked as an award-winning journalist for The Baltimore Sun Media Group, Bloomberg, WBAY, and TMJ4. He has covered the House Intelligence Committee and Maryland General Assembly. He can be reached at (414) 225-1807 or [email protected]

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