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Transportation officials examining Interstate construction plan after 'unacceptable' backup

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Jim Leute
July 15, 2014

JANESVILLE--State transportation officials hope traffic problems like one that backed up vehicles more than three miles on Interstate 90/39 on Monday night will not be a recurring problem as crews prepare the road for expansion.

The Wisconsin State Patrol reported at 7:30 p.m. Monday that southbound traffic near Goede Road in Edgerton was backed up because of construction that's a precursor to the primary widening that officially will kick off next year.

The agency reported that traffic was back to normal just before midnight.

“Monday night was absolutely unacceptable,” said Emmanuel Yartey, the Department of Transportation's construction project manager.

Between Janesville and Edgerton, the department is making repairs designed to ensure the pavement's integrity for heavier construction expected to start next year..

Crews are working at night on both the northbound and southbound lanes.

Yartey said several factors merged to create Monday's backup.

The first, he said, is that construction zones typically create slowdowns.

An isolated downpour and an unanticipated volume of traffic using the interchange for highways 51, 73 and 106 quickly escalated the problem, he said.

“It was starting to slow, and visibility was not good,” he said. “Backups happen in construction projects. (Monday) night's was bigger than we expected and totally unacceptable.

“Once they start, they often get more constricted and worse.”

Yartey said Tuesday the department is reassessing its nighttime operations between Janesville and Edgerton.

It plans to push its starting time of 7 p.m. back to 8 p.m. on the northbound lanes between Kennedy Road in Janesville and Highway 59 at Newville.

It also plans to reschedule this week's ramp closures on the southbound side of the Interstate at highways 51, 73 and 106 from Thursday night to Friday night. On ramps and off ramps will be closed to southbound travelers from 9 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday.

“When we planned a lot of this out, we thought Fridays would be the big travel days in the Janesville and Edgerton area,” Yartey said. “But it hasn't been Fridays, it's been Thursdays, and we don't know why.

“Thursdays have become our worst nightmares.”

Yartey said the department would use its message boards along the Interstate to update motorists about delays and significant problems.

The department will keep its website and 511 hotline updated with delays.

Heavy construction on the 45-mile expansion of the Interstate between the Illinois state line and Madison isn't expected to start until 2015.

This summer, crews are repaving portions of the Interstate from Milwaukee Street in Janesville to just north of the Highway 51/73 interchange near Edgerton.

DOT officials have said the construction expected to start next year will require a shifting of traffic. The repaving underway now is designed to make sure the existing pavement will hold up under traffic.

The nightly operations are expected to continue into the fall.

Yartey said he hopes not to see a repeat of Monday's backup.

“That's why we're changing our operation a little bit,” he said.

Sgt. Marvin LeSueur of the state patrol said that other than Monday's backup, troopers have not reported any other abnormal backups.



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