At long last, the road bridging the River Rock will be completed.
In a brief message late last week, the state Department of Transportation gave notice that crews working on the more than year-long project expect by the end of this month to wrap up remaining work on the south lane of the Milwaukee Street bridge in downtown Janesville.
Late last week, crews working through bridge contractor Zenith Tech were handling concrete work on the sidewalk portion of the bridge’s south lanes, a section that has been closed to traffic and pedestrians, crimping the bridge to one westbound lane much of the winter as crews continued work to finish the project.
The more than $5-million state bridge replacement project has faced months of delays mostly tied to repeated high water on the river that halted work for weeks at a time, pushing completion back from an earlier end date of mid-2019 to spring of this year.
Now, the DOT said in a Twitter post, the bridge is “tentatively” slated to open to both lanes of traffic by April 1. That announcement came last week, even as the National Weather Service forecast river levels to rise by Sunday and Monday to minor flood levels, according to river stage predictions at the Weather Service’s Afton monitoring station.
Crews on the bridge project in recent weeks had taken advantage of a mid-winter ebb in water levels on the river to remove forms placed underneath the bridge that earlier had been inaccessible because of high water. That removed one hurdle that had hampered the project from moving to a close.
For the last few months, traffic has been open on the bridge on one lane, but anyone heading east has continued to face a detour because crews had cordoned off the south side of the deck while they continued work on the sidewalk, bridge rail and south arches.
The protracted closure for months had put pressure on nearby businesses just west of the bridge on West Milwaukee Street who until late last year remained mostly cut off because of the lingering closure. That pressure has eased since early December, when the city pressed for the DOT to allow a single lane to open to traffic.
Now, with many downtown businesses and offices, including Janesville City Hall, shuttered or only open for selective purposes because of the mounting COVID-19 outbreak, the bridge’s full opening likely will come as a muted public event.
Still, the bridge’s completion comes as a major turning point in ARISE, a public-private effort to revitalize the downtown riverfront and transform it into what the city and private entities hope will be a pedestrian-friendly public area that could fuel business redevelopment.
Meanwhile, work has continued on a privately-funded pedestrian bridge that is being built over the river just south of the Milwaukee Street bridge. That project, in addition to public infrastructure improvements along the riverfront in the Milwaukee and Court streets riverfront corridor, is part of ongoing initiatives through ARISE.
Over the weekend, work appeared to be idled on the Milwaukee Street bridge, but late in last week, a Gazette reporter observed crews setting up for concrete work on the bridge that would cap off a wide, promenade-like pedestrian walkway across the river similar to the sidewalk already completed late last year on the bridge’s north side.