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Wisconsin’s First Design-Build Project Will Revitalize Critical River Crossing

by: Mark Bird
The WIS-130 Bridge Project includes two new bridges with 72-inch-wide precast prestressed concrete girders and 40-foot-wide bridge decks. (Photo courtesy of HNTB)
The WIS-130 Bridge Project includes two new bridges with 72-inch-wide precast prestressed concrete girders and 40-foot-wide bridge decks. (Photo courtesy of HNTB)
Photo courtesy of Kraemer North America
Photo courtesy of Kraemer North America
Photo courtesy of Kraemer North America
Photo courtesy of Kraemer North America
Photo courtesy of Kraemer North America
Photo courtesy of Kraemer North America
Photo courtesy of HNTB
Photo courtesy of HNTB
Photo courtesy of HNTB
Photo courtesy of HNTB
Photo courtesy of HNTB
Photo courtesy of HNTB
Photo courtesy of HNTB
Photo courtesy of HNTB
The state of Wisconsin's first design-build project, the WIS-130 Lone Rock Wisconsin River Bridges Project, will reconstruct and enhance a critical connection, improving crossing safety and reliability for commuters on both sides of the river. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) project also provides the state with a real-world demonstration of the design-build alternative delivery method.

The WIS-130/133 Wisconsin River Bridge crossing is located in Richland and Iowa Counties, just south of the village of Lone Rock. The route, running through rural countryside, is primarily used by local commuters and truck traffic and serves as a key piece of transportation infrastructure to the local economy. Current average daily traffic (ADT) is 2,500 vehicles; the projected ADT for 2046 is 2,800 vehicles.

The existing river crossing consists of three bridge structures — constructed in the 1930s and 1940s — which are nearing the end of their service life and do not meet current minimum clearance width standards for bridges.

“The project is replacing the three existing steel truss bridges with two prestressed, multi-segmented girder bridges which will carry WIS-130 and WIS-133 traffic over the two river channels — a 920-foot-long bridge over the south river channel and a 1,100-foot-long bridge over the north channel,” WisDOT Project Manager Greg Brecka said. “The new bridge alignment is west of the existing alignment where there is not as much land area, at the tip of the Bakken’s Pond State Natural Area, so it was decided to have a single bridge span the entire north channel. The single north bridge also minimizes permanent impacts to this wetland area by avoiding roadway embankment.”

The major components of the project include:

  • Two new bridges with 72-inch-wide precast prestressed concrete girders and 40-foot-wide bridge decks
  • Two new mechanically stabilized earth retaining walls on the south side of the river to support the WIS-130/133 intersection on either side of the south abutment
  • Realignment of WIS-130 over the Wisconsin River, moving the T-intersection with WIS-133 about 1,000 feet further west of the existing intersection to a location that does not have a rock face
  • Reconstruction of WIS-133 including the addition of an eastbound bypass lane, a westbound right turn lane, and a guardrail and concrete barrier wall to help minimize crash hazards and prevent rock fall from entering the roadway

To complement the scenic Wisconsin River over which the new spans cross, bridge design has integrated many architectural features, including aesthetic hammerhead piers, rustication patterns, and a two-tone staining of concrete surfaces visible to the river traffic.

In 2022, WisDOT awarded the WIS-130 Bridge Project to heavy civil contractor Kraemer North America. Construction began November 23, 2022, with site preparation and site access. A full closure period for WIS-133, to accommodate full roadway reconstruction, began in July 2023 and ended in November 2023. The anticipated completion date for opening the new bridges and roadway to both directions of traffic is November 2024. Substantial completion for the demolition of the old bridges and restoration is expected by July 2025. (During construction, the existing WIS-130 bridges remain in service while the new bridges are being constructed on the new alignment.)

“The project cost is $36,937,137,” said Ben Thompson, WisDOT Alternative Contracting Engineer. “Much of the funding came from the capital improvement fund, with bonding (contracting of public debt) under Statute 20.855(2) (uuv). The rest of the funding came from the State Highway Rehabilitation program.”

A sampling of the many types of construction equipment being utilized on the project includes: Manitowoc MLC165 Crawler Crane; Demag AC 220-5 All-Terrain Crane; Grove RT650E Rough-Terrain Crane; Caterpillar 320, 336, and 349 Excavators; Volvo EC350E Excavator; Caterpillar 938M Wheel Loader; Caterpillar 259D Track Skid Steer; Poseidon 5-foot hull sectional barges; and Bidwell 4800 Concrete Paver.

Addressing Multiple Terrain Challenges
Construction of the north bridge faced variable subsurface bedrock conditions for the bridge foundations. According to Jake Gregerson, Kraemer North America Design-Build Team Construction Manager, shallow concrete spread-footings were required for most of the substructure units, because the sandstone bedrock underlying the northern river channels of the north bridge was too shallow for deep foundations.

“This meant that the concrete seals that were poured inside the temporary cofferdams for these piers were not only just seals for dewatering, but also part of the permanent foundations,” he said. “This required underwater rock excavation followed by a meticulous diver-assisted cleanout and final underwater foundation inspections inside each pier cofferdam before the seals could be poured.”

Brent Freeman, Kraemer North America Design-Build Project Manager, added, “Due to the necessary location of the south bridge abutment along a high and steep slope above the river and along WIS-133 — coupled with the underlying rock formation along WIS-133, which slopes down from south to north and down from west to east — a nonconventional design for the abutment was required to meet loading and overturning criteria as well as constructable given site conditions.”

Freeman said that the 20-foot-tall abutment body sits on a large pile supported footing and is tied back to a row of permanent sheeting, acting as a “deadman” system. The sheeting was installed and buried under the new roadway during WIS-133’s full roadway closure for the roadway construction.

“Pier 1 of the south bridge had to be redesigned from a planned spread footing to a pile supported footing with the piling also being pre-bored, due to the uncharacteristic nature of the sloping bedrock,” Freeman said. “Initially, the rock at this pier was thought to be flatter based on initial geotechnical borings, but once access was made to the pier, additional exploratory borings were conducted that showed the rock sloped much more than thought and would make a spread footing very difficult to construct given the amount of rock excavation that would be required on the high side.”

To save time on the construction schedule, the team redesigned the pier to a pre-bored pile supported footing.

“The south abutment of the south bridge was the most complex bridge substructure I have been involved with, from the design to the temporary shoring system to the overall construction of the abutment and the tied back ‘deadman’ system,” Freeman said. “Every step was a challenge, and the team really overcame and knocked it out of the park.”

“In April 2022, prior to the start of any construction, there were four instances of rock falls and mud/rock slides that caused roadway or lane closures,” said Barry Larson, HNTB Department Manager/WisDOT Construction Project Engineer. HNTB provided construction oversight and CEI work for WisDOT on this project. “During rock excavation operations in July and August 2023, several challenges were encountered with the various sandstone rock formations, such as rock failures and overhangs. Given the unstable rock cut conditions, a Notice of Design Change [NDC] was directed by WisDOT to add a concrete barrier in place of guard rail, wherever feasible, to prevent rocks from entering the roadway.”

Since the NDC process took place when WIS-133 was under tight closure restrictions, WisDOT coordinated with the design-build teams to complete the redesign, construct the barrier, and reopen WIS-133 on time.

Considering Environmental Issues
Ecologists conduct a survey for Blanchard’s cricket frogs each year in May and June to confirm the presence of any frogs in the project limits.

“Once the survey was completed in 2022 and verified no frogs were in the area, the team pivoted quickly by changing the planned project access point on Long Island — from building a new temporary access road through a swath of old mature growth trees, to utilizing an existing access road and meadow area on Long Island that was closer to the main channel of the river on the south side of the island,” Brecka said. “This revision to the plan avoided clearing over an acre of mature growth trees on the island and having to fill in an existing wetland pond. Overall, this change saved over a quarter acre of total wetlands impacts.”

He added that the design-build team, the WisDOT Bureau of Structures, and the prestress concrete girder manufacturer, County Materials, worked together to design the girders with a higher concrete strength than is typically used in Wisconsin. This allowed for the lengths of the beams to be maxed out and limited the number of piers required on the project, thereby reducing overall wetland impacts within the project footprint.

Wherever possible, rip-rap and stone used for causeways and access roads will be incorporated into permanent fills or final bank armoring where required along the riverbanks. The existing asphalt pavement was recycled and processed through a crusher to produce reclaimed asphalt base aggregate material that was placed for the new roadway base.

Design-Build Signals New Possibilities
Upon completion, the WIS-130 Bridges Project will renew a vital transportation link for surrounding communities. Additionally, as design-build further proves itself as a dependable mode of delivery for WisDOT, the method is expected to usher in new possibilities for the state’s future transportation infrastructure initiatives.

“As the owner’s representative out in the field during construction, the HNTB team found it extremely beneficial to be involved in the design process with WisDOT and the design-build team,” Larson said. “This allowed us to review submittals and best understand the reasons behind design decisions. The entire project has been a great success.”

“It’s been a pleasure being a part of Wisconsin DOT’s first true design-build project and working with many great professionals,” Freeman said. “You can feel the energy and pride from everyone involved, and that has helped us all to create a successful project.”

Project Partners
  • Owner: Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)
  • Heavy Civil Contractor: Kraemer North America
  • WisDOT Construction Oversight/CEI: HNTB with subconsultants Oneida Engineering Solutions and CGC, Inc.
  • Lead Designer: SRF Consulting Group, Inc. (roadway, north bridge)
  • Designer: EXP U.S. Services (south bridge and retaining walls)
  • Geotechnical Engineer and Environmental Compliance: American Engineering Testing, Inc.
  • Public Relations: Revelation
  • Grading Subcontractor: Hoffman
  • Design-Build General Engineering Consultant: AECOM
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