US 41 Construction Ramps Up

Posted on Sep 1, 2009 :: Features
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

A Wisconsin DOT rendering shows the proposed US 41-45 Interchange.

The construction barrels along U.S. 41 in Oshkosh are just a sign of things to come. From now until 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation is overhauling U.S. 41 between Hwy. 26 just south of Oshkosh to the Breezewood Lane/Bell Street exit in Neenah. The project will widen the highway to three lanes in each direction, build another causeway over Lake Butte des Morts and reconstruct exits throughout the corridor.

With that much work going on, keeping the lines of communication open between businesses, drivers and the construction crews is essential, says Kelli Karpinski, director of marketing and communication for the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce. She was first contacted a year ago by the DOT on how to keep businesses informed of the ongoing project. Right now, Karpinski passes on information about the project and any lane closures to members via the chamber’s weekly e-mail blast as well as dedicating a page on the chamber’s website to the project.

“We all understand that sometimes it won’t be easy to get around, but in the end it will be well worth it,” Karpinski says. “Throughout this entire project, it’s our intention to keep communicating with members about what’s happening and when it’s happening.”

The DOT is engaging in a number of initiatives to keep the lines of communication open, says Hwy. 41 Communications Manager Kris Schuller. For example, the DOT has opened an Oshkosh outreach office, held several meetings to make sure business owners and community members are informed about what’s happening and hired outreach specialists to make sure certain population segments, such as the elderly or business owners, are getting the information they need.

“Information is king in a project of this size,” Schuller says. “We are keeping the dialogue going with Oshkosh businesses and residents to make sure everyone knows what’s going on. Everyone seems receptive and realizes this project is needed.”

The work in Oshkosh is just part of an overall $980 million U.S. 41 construction project. In addition to the work in Winnebago County, a 14-mile section of U.S. 41 in Brown County will be reconstructed and eight interchanges will be rebuilt from De Pere to Suamico.

Both projects will update the highway to help it handle growing traffic counts and improve safety, Schuller says. “People understand the need for the project. They can see the traffic on the highway and know that the expansion is necessary,” he says.

Oshkosh business owners are bracing for the construction. Connie Drexler, president of the West Side Association in Oshkosh, says the DOT is open about the project and how it will affect traffic patterns.

“The DOT has been very forthcoming. We’ve had them in three times in the past year to give us updates on the project,” says Drexler of 44 Degrees North Advertising & Design. “In fact as long as I’ve been involved in the West Side Association – at least 15 years – they have been talking to us about U.S. 41 and the coming changes. They want to keep us all updated.”

Businesses are interested in staying informed about the project and a bit concerned construction may make it harder for people to reach them, Drexler says. “We all understand, however, that this project is needed. By having meetings between our members and the DOT, we’re getting a lot of great opportunities to ask what’s happening and how it may affect what we do.”

Besides informing businesses and residents about lane closures, Schuller says the DOT is also committed to educating everyone on using roundabouts since the reconstructed exits will make use of them.

“People don’t know a lot about roundabouts and there are some misconceptions, so we’re trying to let them know more about them and how they improve traffic flow and are safer than the traditional intersection,” he says.

Construction crews are beginning to work on roads off U.S. 41 to help make way for the highway reconstruction. In August, construction began on a Lake Butte des Morts Drive overpass over U.S. 41 and the Snell Road overpass going over U.S. 41 from Fountain Avenue to Snell Road. Work on a multi-lane roundabout on U.S. 45 at the intersection of Fernau Avenue and Lake Butte des Morts Drive will begin this fall.

Crews have also started trucking in 300,000 tons of rock and sand that will be used to extend the Lake Butte des Morts Bridge to the west by 80 to 100 feet. Construction of the new eight-lane bridge will begin the fall of 2011.