RACINE COUNTY — Starting next June (2024), motorists can anticipate two years of traffic delays on and near the Highway 38 (Northwestern Avenue) bridge over the Root River. But detours will seldom be an issue.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) planners on Wednesday shared a bridge replacement project timeline that will allow at least one lane of traffic in each direction throughout the construction period. The 60-year-old bridge, which currently sees more than 25,000 vehicles a day, carries traffic from Northwestern Avenue, County MM, Rapids Drive and North Green Bay Road.
WisDOT targeted the bridge for replacement because of its age and the need for better traffic flow, sidewalks and wider shoulders for bicycles.
During a public input session at the Cesar Chavez Community Center, 2221 Douglas Ave., large easel-mounted aerial photos depicted traffic patterns for the bridge area. WisDOT staff members were on hand to discuss details during the public input session.
Planners had been considering two different construction timetables. One option would have closed the bridge completely for about a year and require all traffic to be detoured around the area. In the second option, which was ultimately selected by WisDOT, the bridge will be replaced in two phases.
Phase one – 2024
Starting in about June 2024 and ending around November of that year, the northern section of the bridge will be demolished.
All traffic will be routed onto the bridge’s southern section in a single lane in each direction.
Also, during that period, part of the Northwestern Avenue-Rapids Drive intersection will be reconfigured and new pavement will be installed between County MM on the west side of the bridge and Rapids Drive on the east side.
Traffic will be routed on to the newly constructed northern portion of the bridge as crews prepare to demolish the structure’s southern portion. No other work will be done from November 2024 until spring 2025 to prevent interference with spawning salmon and trout in the Root River.
Phase two – 2025
Starting in about June 2025, the southern portion of the bridge will be removed and replaced. Traffic will be routed onto the bridge’s northern section into a single lane in each direction.
The remaining work on the Northwestern Avenue-Rapids Drive intersection will be completed along with the remainder of the paving work on each end of the bridge. New traffic signal equipment will be installed in the area.
The overall project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2025.
WisDOT’s aerial illustrations indicated morning delays of 3 to 5 minutes and afternoon delays of 5 to 7 minutes on each end of the bridge during the 2024 and 2025 construction seasons. Andy Utic, a WisDOT traffic signal operations planner, said those time estimates are based on models and wait times could actually be longer at certain times of the day.
He added that plans call for the traffic signals at County MM and Northwestern (on the bridge’s west side) and at Rapids Drive and Northwestern Avenue (on the bridge’s east side) to be coordinated to help maximize traffic flow.
Motorists will also be directed to an alternate route via Spring Street to avoid delays.
Justin Suydam, WisDOT project manager, said that truck and bus traffic will be able to use the planned single-lane arrangement for the bridge, but some will opt for the alternate route at times.
WisDOT planners got considerable pushback from business operators and residents on the option to completely close the Root River bridge for reconstruction for about a year. Concerns were raised about traffic to three public schools to the east of the bridge and about additional traffic on roadways in nearby Caledonia.
Pasquale Infusino, who operates a restaurant and banquet hall on Rapids Drive, presented WisDOT staff with copies of petitions containing about 1,500 signatures during a public input session in late April.
“Probably the biggest thing was that a lot of business owners spoke up. This (project) affects a lot of people but especially the businesses in the area,” said Suydam.
The project plans will be finalized over the next few months. Bids will be let at the end of this year and WisDOT expects to award contracts in early 2024.
The project is expected to cost about $8 million.
To view a digital summary of the project, visit WisDOT’s Root River Bridge Reconstruction web page.