Jim Alverson of Home Again Consignments said his store in the 200 block of West Milwaukee Street has seen a 50% falloff in sales every month the Milwaukee Street bridge has been closed for construction since Oct. 1.
Better hold on another four full months, Jim.
According to an updated project schedule the contractor submitted last week to the city of Janesville and the state Department of Transportation, the project isn’t set to be completed—and the bridge likely won’t reopen to traffic—until late October.
That’s about three months later than contractors had hoped to complete the state DOT project, and it would be more than a year after the project began.
The work has been hampered by delays the contractor and the city have said are mainly the result of a rainy autumn, a snowy winter with heavy runoff, and a spring and summer with spurts of rain that have kept the Rock River flowing high and fast more often than not.
The bridge has been closed since late last fall when a contractor removed the deck and the abutments. Work on a new bridge continued through a brutally cold, snowy winter and a rainy spring and early summer, but progress has been slower than initially anticipated. The contractor has said the coffer dams crews built so they could build new pilings have been filling with water because of the high, fast river.
The Gazette obtained the schedule the contractor submitted that shows the bridge project isn’t slated to wrap up until Oct. 24.
The Gazette was unable to reach officials at Westbrook Engineers, the project’s manager, for comment on the new end date, but Alex Bromley, who is overseeing the project for Westbrook, told The Gazette in May that the project was running at least a month behind its original planned completion date of late June. At that time, he suggested it might not be completed until late July—or later, if water levels continued to stay higher than normal.
Sure enough, July will come and go with a bridge that remains unfinished. The closure forces vehicles to detour onto Centerway along a wide, northerly route that bypasses the entire west side of downtown from the river to the Five Points intersection.
Paul Woodard, director of the city’s Department of Public Works said the city is aware of the anxiety among West Milwaukee Street business owners over the project’s delays.
He said the city and the DOT didn’t immediately get details about why the project will be delayed further.
But Woodard said the city “disagrees” with the contractor that it could take until almost November to finish the project.
Woodard last week said the city and the DOT plan to work with the contractor to find ways to finish the bridge before the end of October.
“They should figure out some way to get this done sooner. It’s not going to be done next week, obviously, but, I mean, sooner than October for sure,” Woodard said.
Work last week was ongoing on the easternmost pier that will support the bridge deck. After that, Woodard said the contractor will have to remove the existing abutment and replace it with a new one.
That work must be done before contractors can start laying the new bridge deck and street on top. The contractor’s schedule shows that curb and gutter work, placement of streetlights, and cleanup are slated to take place through September and October.
That’s a dimmer prospect for businesses west of the river that hoped to see the bridge finished this summer. Those businesses already are anticipating a second wave of traffic-disrupting work in 2021, when the city plans to resurface Milwaukee Street and replace curbs and gutters.
Kari Reents, who owns Velvet and Tulle Boutique, a women’s fashion store on West Milwaukee Street about 500 feet west of the river, said she has gotten scant information from the bridge contractor recently.
Reents was aware the bridge project faced delays, but the last email she got from the project’s manager—which came in response to an email she sent late in June—didn’t give a new completion date.
“Our current contracted completion date is the end of July, however, our contractors are not going to meet that deadline,” Bromley, the project manager, wrote in an email to Reents.
“By the next monthly update, we should have a better feel for when they will be complete and will let you know.”
That email came to Reents on July 1—the same date Woodard said the city and DOT received a schedule that showed the project isn’t scheduled to be completed until late October.
Reents said she heard from a few business operators the project could drag into the fall, but she had no word on the apparent new completion date of late October.
Reents said she is confused why the contractor would share with the city and the DOT details on a project delay of four months, yet not spell that out to businesses that have been affected by the bridge closure for months.
“I do think if they were more forthcoming about the delays, then people might be more understanding—or they’d have more of an understanding, period,” she said.
“If they’d come out and say ‘It’s not going to be done until next year’ or something, people might not be happy about it, but at least they’d have a date to look to.”