State Department of Transportation officials didn’t make it official Monday, but it appears the Milwaukee Street bridge could open this week to at least one lane of traffic.
Maybe even two lanes.
On Monday, crews swept the areas where the east and west sides of Milwaukee Street tie into the rebuilt bridge. In the morning, the bridge contractor set out concrete barriers along the south side of the bridge, where crews still must build the side railings and façade.
Paul Woodard, city public works director, said he believes the DOT might reopen one—if not both lanes—on the bridge this week.
Woodard said the city has pressed the DOT and bridge contractor Zenith Tech for weeks to open at least one lane, regardless of whether the bridge project is completely finished or not. Even one open lane would allow downtown traffic to resume a somewhat normal pattern after a year of detours.
As of Monday evening, the bridge was still barricaded and closed to traffic, and the DOT did not respond to inquiries about the pace of work or plans to open the bridge. But for the first time in 13 months, there was a clear view looking west down Milwaukee Street across the Rock River. Despite high water that has resulted in five months of delays, the bridge’s driving surface and the streets that tie into the bridge are completed.
Zenith Tech still must finish the railing and façade—work that requires access to the underside of the bridge from barges in the river. But continued snow and rainfall have left the river swollen and near flood stage for weeks, and crews have been unable to tackle that work.
Woodard said the city initially sought to have a single lane open on the north side of the bridge while contractors worked from the water to finish the south façade and railing.
But he said city officials’ thinking has shifted recently because the river has remained high—and recently has risen a few inches.
“The city’s now been advocating that we get it open to two lanes,” he said. “That’s given the fact that three weeks ago, it looked like the river was going to go down, but now it looks like the river will stay high for a while.
“So the city’s been advocating with the DOT and the contractor that they put Jersey barriers on the south side, stripe it (the bridge surface) and open up both lanes,” he said.
Woodard said concrete tying East and West Milwaukee Street to the bridge was poured last week and now is cured.
Pedestrians already are using the new wider sidewalk on the north side of the bridge to cross the river.
Woodard said Monday that he hadn’t gotten word on what the DOT’s or the contractor’s plans were, but he said it appears that at least one lane should be open this week.
If the DOT opts to open both lanes, though, it probably will be temporary.
Eventually, the river levels will drop, and the contractor will have to close the south lane until work on that side is finished.