As work begins, businesses welcome interstate project
JANESVILLE — Construction workers rolled out a new batch of orange barrels Thursday, marking the start of a project that eventually will widen Interstate 90/39 to 12 lanes through part of Janesville.
The expansion officially begins in 2015 and is expected to last until 2021. The plan includes widening the Interstate between Highway 26 and Highway 14 to six lanes in each direction—four lanes of traffic and two lanes for on and off ramps.
At that point, the Interstate will be more than 240 feet wide, according to state Department of Transportation drawings.
The Interstate will be four lanes in each direction through the rest of Janesville and three lanes in each direction outside of Janesville between Madison and the Illinois state line.
The project is expected to cost the state $825.7 million.
Local business owners along the planned 12-lane portion of the Interstate said they were not concerned about the effects the project could have on business. Instead, they view the project as a chance to bring new business into the community.
Todd Berg, general manager at Harms Kia, said he's been "thrilled" for the project to start since the dealership opened its doors nine years ago. Berg said improving the Interstate would make it easier for customers from Madison and Rockford, Ill., and would bring more people to the city in general.
Berg said the project would increase Harms' visibility from the highway, which could provide a boost for business.
"This needs to happen … It'll get this community going again," he said.
Allen Fugate, operations manager at Van Galder Bus, said he expects the expansion to benefit business in the long run, but it likely would cause "a little more daily aggravation" for bus drivers while construction is underway.
He said drivers have been educated about what to expect during the project, and Van Galder will reroute buses as necessary depending on traffic conditions.
Fugate said the project could help alleviate congestion that can cause delays for buses.
"Another lane would just give us that much more reliability with our travel times," he said. "Drivers know they have to have a lot of patience … (We'll) adapt and react accordingly."
At a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, local and state leaders praised the project as one that would improve industry and job creation in the area.
At the event near the Racine Street interchange, state Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said improving the 45-mile corridor gives Wisconsin a competitive advantage for industry and transportation routes because the Interstate is an important gateway to the state.
The project comes as the result of bipartisan cooperation across multiple state administrations, he said.
"At the end of the day, we'll deliver a project … that will grow the economy," he said.
Gottlieb said the state often does not see the unified local support that helped push planning for the project.
Joan Neeno, a spokeswoman for St. Mary's Janesville Hospital, said staff has worked closely with DOT officials to make sure access for emergency vehicles and patients is maintained during construction.
She said road shoulders would be widened to allow ambulances to pass if traffic is backed up and to ensure access to the Interstate is not blocked.
Construction has begun to replace the Racine Street interchange, one of the first steps in the multiyear Interstate project.
After two roundabouts near the hospital and Dean Clinic are installed, Neeno said staff would be handing out pamphlets about navigating the area and already have been distributing information about the project's timeline to help educate patients.
Derek Potter, manager of the Interstate project's central segment, said the portion between Highway 14 and Highway 26 still is being designed.