Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Vliet Street Reconstruction Gets Federal Funding

Plus: Humboldt reconstruction nearly 50% over budget and the future of Highway 175.

By - Apr 27th, 2022 04:07 pm
Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, 1220 W. Vliet St. Photo taken May 19th, 2021 by Jeramey Jannene.

Vliet Street in front of the Marica P. Coggs Human Services Center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is allowing the City of Milwaukee to move forward on an indefinitely-delayed project, but at a substantially increased cost.

The Department of Public Works has sought to do a full reconstruction of W. Vliet St. between N. 12th St. and N. 27th St. for nearly a decade. Design work on the project began in 2014 after the state agreed to allocate federal funds to pay for a portion of the engineering and construction costs. Construction was to begin in 2017. The street is an arterial route into the northwestern corner of Downtown.

“We tried to bid it twice through the [Wisconsin Department of Transportation]’s office in Madison. They both came in like 25% over,” said DPW engineer Chad Chrisbaum. A 2017 document lists the planned cost at $4.1 million, with the city contributing $939,096.

With design work complete, the city shelved the project and instead used its high-impact paving program (HIPP) to replace the top layer of the roadway. Chrisbaum said that was done, in part, to handle expected traffic flows with people coming and going from Downtown during the Democratic National Convention. HIPP projects are expected to last 10 to 15 years.

Then in November, Congress passed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It reauthorized a number of federal transportation programs for four years and increased their funding, in addition to funding new programs. The allocation formula for federal surface transportation program funds resulted in the Milwaukee area receiving between $8 million and $10 million more pear year. But, most importantly for the Vliet Street project, it also required the first year of funding to be spent by September 2022.

“It just so happens we had the design on the shelf,” said Chrisbaum. The city needed the support of the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) to access the STP funds and it found little competition. “Regionally everyone agreed to support this project because there is low risk. They knew it could be delivered on time.” St. Francis also had a project funded.

According to a council resolution, the project is now expected to cost up to $10 million with a $3.6 million city share, an amount only $500,000 less than the original estimate for the entire project.

Now DPW must move quickly to get the contract out. “We have to deliver the final specs and estimates in a few weeks,” said the engineer.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents the south side of Vliet Street, asked if the design could be changed to reflect evolving strategies on traffic calming. “The design is locked in,” said Chrisbaum. But he said curb bump-outs were included that would prevent passing on the right. He also said the pedestrian accommodations would be a lot better.

The eastern portion of the street passes in front of the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center. “Right now, it’s not ADA-complaint getting in and out of that building,” said Chrisbaum. New curb ramps would improve accessibility and new sidewalks would improve conditions for pedestrians. Street lighting, including the underground circuitry, would also be entirely replaced along the entire stretch of road. The street also passes King Park and the planned McKinley School redevelopment. Milwaukee County Transit System‘s Route 33 runs along the street.

Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II, who represents the north side of the street, asked why the project was being rushed if the new pavement was put down.

“Would we have liked to wait a little bit longer and get a bit more useful life out of the overlay? Sure, we would have had,” said the engineer. But he said the project would not have scored as well compared to other city projects, even before it encounters suburban projects, when the next round of STP funding was available.

“It was a pretty big win for the city to get this project after so many years of not having a successful bid,” said Chrisbaum.

Construction work would take place in 2023.

Stamper said that residents would be happy with the finished product, but not the construction. He said communication with the residents was important. “To lessen the unhappiness, let me tell them what is going to happen on time,” he said. Chrisbaum promised DPW would follow up.

Getting “Shovel Ready” For Other Projects

The committee also endorsed up to $1.2 million in borrowing to try to get other streets in the queue. The money would be used to design 10 additional paving projects with the hopes of getting the first batch approved by SEWRPC in July. The completed design work could also be used to seek other funding sources in the future.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also included a number of new programs such as a carbon reduction program and a reconnecting neighborhoods program. Chrisbaum said one idea the city would explore is leveraging one of the programs to pay for reconfiguring the Wisconsin State Highway 175, a freeway spur between the Stadium Interchange and W. North Ave. A growing number of individuals have called for replacing it with a surface-level boulevard and reconnecting the surrounding neighborhoods, and city officials have publicly discussed changes.

Humboldt Boulevard Cost Increase

There is no silver lining to the third road borrowing item the committee discussed: the escalating cost of rebuilding 1.5 miles of N. Humboldt Blvd. in Riverwest.

The committee endorsed borrowing up to $4 million to cover the increased cost of the project. The project was previously estimated to cost $8.6 million with the federal government paying 80% and the city covering 20%. Property owners pay for a portion of the work that includes replacing their driveway approaches and sidewalks.

The original cost estimate was established in a 2016 agreement with WisDOT and construction was to take place in 2020. The city delayed and reconfigured the project. DPW and area Alderman Nik Kovac evaluated options to include protected bike lanes in the corridor, before stripping that portion of the plan in 2021.

The majority of the construction work is scheduled to be completed in 2022, with the remainder finished by May 2023.

The committee unanimously recommended approval of up to $9 million in borrowing to cover all three uses. The full council is scheduled to consider the proposal in two weeks.

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

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