John Burgland may have been the happiest man in Northeast Wisconsin to see bulldozers begin moving mounds of earth to add a northbound exit from eastbound Highway 441 onto U.S. Highway 41.
He’s been waiting a long time.
As the general manager of the Fox River Mall, one of the recurring complaints he receives from shoppers coming from areas west of Appleton is the inconvenience of not being able to turn north on Highway 41 to get to the mall. While there are alternate routes, they are neither convenient, nor easy to find for those not familiar with the area.
“Right now, people can see us, but they just can’t get here from there,” says Burgland. “It’s going to be nice to see that full interchange open.
Not just for our customers, but for this whole northeast quadrant to the Fox Cities.”
In mid-July, state and local officials held a groundbreaking celebrating the start of the long-anticipated project. Almost immediately, work began in earnest, as construction workers and equipment began moving mounds of earth to prepare the site for the five-year, $475 million project.
The reconstruction of Highway 441, which will include an additional bridge across Little Lake Butte des Morts and reconfigured interchanges from Highway 41 to Oneida Street, will take nearly five years to complete. The new bridge is expected to take nearly two years to finish, then the existing bridge will be closed so it can be upgraded.
Once completed, each bridge will handle traffic in a single direction.
Highway 441, still known regionally as the Tri-County Expressway, was completed nearly 20 years ago and is considered one of the essential regional connectors, without which much of the residential and commercial development in the eastern regions of the Fox Cities would not have occurred.
The project has a unique history in Wisconsin. It was the first time where the land acquisition for a highway project was completed by the local communities along the proposed route, who then offered it to the state. It took a concerted lobbying effort by a regional citizens committee to convince the state to participate in the project.
Now, the Roland Kampo Bridge and Highway 441 handle more than 60,000 vehicles a day, Scott Ebel, the project manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, says. When finished, the improved roadway is projected to handle 88,000 vehicles a day by 2038.
“That capacity is one of the major items the reconstruction will address,” he says. “There will also be safety and other issues addressed.”
Some of the other issues Ebel referred to are the addition of noise walls, roundabouts and bicycle and pedestrian accommodations.
The project to revamp Highway 441 will also complement the reconstruction of Highway 41 in Brown and Outagamie counties. Once completed, that $1.51 billion project will expand and renovate a total of 31 miles of Highway 41 in the two counties.
Plans to upgrade Highway 41 to interstate status are still awaiting action on the federal level. Congress needs to pass grandfathering legislation that will allow Wisconsin to keep the current weight limits on Highway 41 when converted to an interstate. That legislation has passed the House, but the Senate has yet to take up the measure and has no timetable to do so.
While it will take several years to complete the project, Burgland says it’s nice to know there is an end date to the dreaded calls from motorists coming east on Highway 10 who have already crossed Highway 41 and are still looking for a northbound turnoff.
While the mall was part of a successful lobbying effort several years ago to have signs added along Highway 10 showing the alternate routes, the new exits will be a welcome addition.
“When you look at all the businesses located in this part of the region, it is sort of frightening to think what we are putting those customers through,” Burgland says. “Now we know for certain that will end.”