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RACINE — A Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) project team will soon be considering whether to schedule the replacement of the Highway 38 (Northwestern Avenue) bridge over the Root River into a single construction season or spread it out over two years. The work would start in 2024.

Regardless of the decision, motorists on the city’s far northwest side will see delays – and possibly detours – for many months. The six-lane bridge carries more than 25,000 vehicles per day.

bridge meeting
Members of the public viewed easel-mounted aerial photos depicting how traffic patterns would be affected by the bridge project starting in 2024. WisDOT engineers and designers were on hand to answer questions. – Credit: Paul Holley

The 60-year-old bridge spans the river just downstream from the Horlick Dam. Traffic feeds onto the bridge from County Highway MM and Northwestern Avenue to the west, and from Northwestern Avenue, Rapids Drive and North Green Bay Road to the east.

Tuesday afternoon, about 100 people crowded into a gym at a WisDOT-hosted public input meeting at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, 2221 Douglas Ave., to view easel-mounted aerial photos depicting how traffic patterns would be affected by the project. WisDOT engineers and designers mingled about to take questions.

Visitors were invited to fill out comment forms at the meeting or submit comments online by next Tuesday, May 2. Email:

New bridge, better traffic flow

“We’re working on improving traffic flow by adding an extra (westbound) lane on the north side (of the bridge),” said Janet Cannon, a WisDOT team member.

The project will also reconfigure the Highway 38 and Rapids Drive intersection, replace the pavement between County Highway MM and Rapids Drive, install new traffic signal equipment at Rapids Drive and add sidewalks and wider shoulders to accommodate bicycles.

The project overview map can be downloaded by clicking the button.

Two alternatives outlined for bridge project

Option 1 – a year of bridge closure, detours

The first alternative would close the bridge to all traffic while the structure is removed and replaced; the new pavement and sidewalks completed, and the traffic signals installed. Traffic would be detoured away from the bridge crossing via Highway 31 and County C (Spring Street).

The reconstruction work would begin in the spring of 2024 and take about a year.

Justin Suydam, WisDOT project manager, said the estimated price tag is about $6 million.

The single construction season alternative for the Highway 38 bridge had originally been in the works with the replacement taking place this year (2023). The project was delayed, however, by the removal of a natural gas line and fiber optic cable lines across the bridge plus objections to the full closure.

Option 2 – bridge partially open for two years

In the second alternative, the north side of the bridge would be constructed in the first year (2024) and the bridge’s south side would be constructed in the second year (2025). The bridge would be restricted to single-lane local traffic in each direction. In addition, some left turns in the area would be prohibited and the lane reductions could cause delays.

Some types of traffic would be sent on alternative routes around the bridge.

Transporting 150-foot bridge girders to the construction site would require temporary roadway closures at times.

bridge meeting
Many who attended Tuesday’s Highway 38 bridge project meeting left written comments. WisDOT is accepting comments through May 2. – Credit: Paul Holley

In both project timetables, construction within the Root River could not take place during certain times of the year so as not to interfere with spawning trout and salmon.

WisDOT’s Suydam said the two-year staged project timeline would add about $2 million to the project bringing the price tag to about $8 million.

Petition signers urge two-year schedule

bridge meeting
Pasquale Infusino, owner of a Rapids Drive restaurant and banquet hall, displays petitions calling for the bridge project to be completed over two construction seasons (2024 and 2025). The longer period would allow the bridge to partially remain open to traffic. – Credit: Paul Holley

Pasquale Infusino, who operates a restaurant and banquet hall on nearby Rapids Drive, was all-in on the two-year option. He presented the WisDOT team with copies of petitions that he said held about 1,500 signatures. The signatures were collected at his business and other area locations over the past several weeks.

“It’s gonna cripple us – just like having another (COVID-19) virus,” Infusino told the Racine County Eye. “Replacing this bridge half at a time is the way to go. It’s still complicated, but it would help us tremendously.”

Infusino said from talking with customers he learned that 65% of his traffic “comes from the other side of the bridge.”

But, Infusino added, the inconvenience isn’t borne by just his restaurant.

“You’ve got school buses that use that bridge. People use it to get back and forth from work. It’s just a mess,” he said.

Additional objections

Other residents told WisDOT team members of concerns they had about a long-term bridge closure sending additional traffic to other nearby roadways and intersections, such as North Green Bay Road and Four Mile Road in Caledonia.

Maxwell Love, City of Racine communications specialist, attended the Tuesday meeting. He later provided a statement.

“The Mayor of Racine heard concerns from local businesses and residents regarding the Highway 38 bridge construction project,” the statement read. “He requested that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) reinitiate the community engagement project.”

In addition, the statement said that Mayor Cory Mason has spoken with Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson about the bridge project issue “and directed various city departments and staff to engage with the process.”

The mayor has not suggested a preferred construction alternative, according to the statement.

What’s ahead?

Suydam said the team will review the public response from Tuesday and submissions received through the May 2 deadline during the next few weeks.

WisDOT plans to hold another public meeting in a month or two to inform residents of its decision and disclose project details.

bridge meeting
About 100 people attended a public involvement meeting hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to learn about a planned replacement of the Highway 38 (Northwestern Avenue) bridge over the Root River. The session was held Tuesday afternoon at the Cesar Chavez Community Center. – Credit: Paul Holley

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...