Lifts Achieve A High Profile on Interchange Project

Milwaukee's Marquette Interchange project is an ambitious effort to improve the section at which Interstates 43, 94 and 794 meet in the city's downtown area. At $810 million, it is Wisconsin's most expensive venture ever, and is the first of its scope and size to be completed while continuously maintaining traffic flow.

Work on the Interchange includes both demolition and complete reconstruction, as all left exit ramps are removed, merge lanes are lengthened, ramps are widened and an entire new fifth level is added.

According to Brady Frederick, project manager for Marquette Constructors, LLC, the joint venture firm heading up the operation, the project is unique in a number of respects. "The Marquette job is actually two projects being undertaken at once: a 'South Leg' portion and the central or 'Core' section," he explains. "It is a complex undertaking that demands a great deal of planning and execution to bring a whole host of efforts together."

This is made even more challenging by the fact that the state has assured Milwaukee-area motorists it would have two lanes of traffic open in each direction for the duration of construction.

"To ensure this was the case, we undertook a $30 million contract last year to build five temporary bridges to establish new traffic patterns to keep things moving," says Frederick. "The DOT made a firm commitment to the community to get this done with minimal impact upon day-to-day traffic activity. And while that's added tremendously to the complexity of the project, it's really happening."

The project is so massive in scope that three of the state's largest bridge contractors — Lunda Construction Co., Black River Falls; Edward Kraemer & Sons, Inc., Plain; and Zenith Tech, Inc., Waukesha — joined forces under the joint venture banner of Marquette Constructors, LLC.

"In combining our efforts we tried to draw upon each firm's strengths and form an entity that could be competitive on every level," says Frederick. "This project has drawn a lot of national interest, and each of our companies has a level of expertise handling projects with a national presence. We learned early on the key to our success was going to be in maintaining an excellent level of communication between all parties and that's proven true at every turn."

A multitude of lifts

The Marquette Interchange differs from other highway projects in its sheer size and complexity. Traditional projects might call for reconstruction of a bridge, widening of a road or construction of a new on- or off-ramp. At any given time, the Marquette project has all that and more going on simultaneously. This requires a massive amount of equipment on site.

"We currently have anywhere from 25 to 30 Genie lifts working throughout the South Leg and the Core, and have been at that level for months," says Frederick. "We have between eight and 10 crews just building columns on different bridges, each in a different stage of construction. And because all of our work is between 30 and 120 ft. in the air, the Genie lifts provide the most efficient way to access these areas and still remain mobile."

Occasionally, stair towers are erected for access to specific areas, but these only last a week or so before they have to be torn down and moved. "The lifts, on the other hand, allow us to gain immediate access, come down, move and do it all again — all day, every day," says Frederick.

"We have various sizes of units in place assisting in everything from pile driving, to concrete forming, to acetylene-based demolition, to girder placement and more," he adds.

In bridge girder placement applications, a pair of cranes are used to pick and place precast beams — some measuring 140 ft. and weighing better than 150,000 lbs. Ground personnel in aerial lifts precisely guide them into position. "The workers then use the lifts to gain access to insert spacer diaphragms between each girder," says Frederick. "Again, it's that ability to be right there that makes the aerial lift invaluable."

Many of the forms taking shape at the Marquette site are complex in nature, often making extended work necessary. "The forms for the I-43 bridge just south of St. Paul Avenue, for example, took us better than three weeks to erect. They were that complex," Frederick comments. "These are not cookie-cutter forms; each one was designed specifically to meet the needs of its application. And since many rise as high as 120 ft., the Genie lifts we have on site — offering from 65 to 135 ft. of reach — make form access and construction a breeze."

All phases of the Marquette Interchange project are slated to be completed by the end of 2008.