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Six things to know about Wisconsin's plan to expand I-41 from Appleton to De Pere, including more roundabouts and public hearings

Green Bay Press-Gazette logo Green Bay Press-Gazette 7/26/2021 Jeff Bollier, Green Bay Press-Gazette
a car is lined up on the side of a road: Traffic moves along Interstate 41 near Richmond Street in Appleton. © Chris Kohley/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin Traffic moves along Interstate 41 near Richmond Street in Appleton.

DE PERE - Interstate 41 between Appleton and Green Bay, an especially dangerous stretch of highway, could look a lot different in the next five to eight years. 

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation plans to reconstruct a 23-mile segment of I-41 from the Wisconsin Avenue exit in Appleton north to the Scheuring Road exit in De Pere to address congestion, decaying pavement and a higher-than-average rate of crashes. That stretch saw more than 1,600 crashes from 2015 to 2019, averaging nearly one a day, according to DOT statistics. 

The plan would give motorists three lanes in each direction all the way from Oshkosh to Green Bay and reconstruct bridges and overpasses. Existing interchanges would be replaced with roundabouts and diverging diamonds. A diverging diamond interchange moves vehicles to the opposite side of the road to eliminate the need for left turns in front of oncoming traffic. They're designed to be safer and decrease congestion. 

RELATED: What's a diverging diamond interchange?

Some of the current four-lane roadway and bridges date to the 1960s and can no longer be effectively repaired, said Scott Ebel, a DOT design project manager. The state included money for the expansion in its 2019-21 budget, and design and engineering work is already underway. Construction, design, environmental assessment, real estate acquisition, utility relocations and other project costs are expected to total about $1.25 billion.

Current schedules call for actual roadwork to begin in 2025 and wrap up by 2029. 

Designers and engineers will present the DOT's recommended changes and modifications during three public hearings this week. The agency will incorporate the public input into the final plan, expected to be released in November, Ebel said.

The expansion is designed to improve the flow of traffic, increase I-41's capacity and make it a safer route to travel. Here are six key elements of the expansion project that the DOT is considering at this time and how you can share your thoughts on them. 

1. Making it six lanes, aiming to reduce crashes

An estimated 74,000 vehicles a day travel this section of I-41, and the DOT examined options for rebuilding the highway that included doing nothing, reconstructing the existing four-lane highway with safety improvements, or expanding to six lanes, three in each direction. 

The state has recommended six "through" lanes of traffic, three north and three south, for all traffic to use, Ebel said. Auxiliary lanes would be added where there are several exits near each other, such as the area around Ballard Road and Richmond Street exits in the Appleton area. 

The project also would raise overpasses to meet preferred standards set by state and federal highway agencies and reconstruct aging bridges.

Finally, Ebel said, the new design would address "geometric deficiencies" in the highway's path to improve the flow of traffic.

Improvements also would aim to reduce crashes on this stretch of I-41. Most of the 23-mile stretch experiences crash rates up to 50% higher than the statewide rate for a major road, Ebel said. Crashes on the section around Richmond Road, also known as State 47, are more than 50% higher than the state average.

An environmental report prepared as the expansion project was studied indicates the four-lane stretch from De Pere south to the west side of Appleton experienced 1,640 crashes, not including vehicle-animal crashes. About 11% of crashes resulted in evident injuries and six crashes were fatal. 

2. Adding exit for future South Bridge route

map: A map highlights in blue the route federal and state officials have signed off on for development of Brown County's South Bridge Connector. The route will run from Packerland Drive east along Orange Lane, cross Interstate 41, follow Southbridge and Red Maple roads, cross the Fox River and follow Rockland Road east to Monroe Road. © Courtesy of Brown County A map highlights in blue the route federal and state officials have signed off on for development of Brown County's South Bridge Connector. The route will run from Packerland Drive east along Orange Lane, cross Interstate 41, follow Southbridge and Red Maple roads, cross the Fox River and follow Rockland Road east to Monroe Road.

A new, ninth interchange would be added to the highway in the De Pere area that will help Brown County's development of a South Bridge Connector route. 

The South Bridge route, first proposed more than 50 years ago, would serve as a bypass around the Green Bay metro area for trucks and travelers moving between I-41 and Interstate 43. 

The DOT has agreed to build the new highway exit structure and connect the roadway to frontage roads. Brown County, De Pere and the town of Lawrence have budgeted $1.2 million this year for South Bridge design and engineering.work. Local governments would be responsible for building the road from the frontage roads to Lawrence Drive to the east and Packerland Drive to the west. 

The interchange's design includes roundabouts. 

RELATED: South Bridge Connector development moves forward with OKs from state, feds

3. Letting us drive 55 mph at 441-41 interchange

The 35 mph loop ramps at the Wisconsin 441-Interstate 41 interchange north of Appleton were built at a time when speed limits and traffic volumes were lower. 

The DOT is recommending rebuilding the interchange that would keep motorists moving at about 55 mph, within 15 mph of the highway speed limit of 70 mph to improve flow.   

"We know from experience that the interchange as it is does have some issues," Ebel said. "We constructed a concrete barrier ... in 2009 and added more lighting. It was a good stop-gap measure, but we still have a lot of concerns about the change in speed through that interchange."

The plan calls for a "flyover ramp" akin to those incorporated into recent I-41 interchange reconstructions in the Oshkosh and Green Bay areas. 

4. Bringing more roundabouts, diverging diamonds

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All eight existing interchanges will be rebuilt and about two-thirds of them will see the old left-turn-right-turn intersections replaced with either roundabouts or diverging diamond intersections. 

Appleton got its first diverging diamond interchange in 2018 at the intersection of Wisconsin 441 and Oneida Street. The I-41 expansion project would add three more: at Ballard Road, Richmond Street and Northland Avenue. 

The new South Bridge Connector exit in Brown County is one of three interchanges where roundabouts have been proposed. The other two: County Line Road, on the Brown-Outagamie county line, and Freedom Road, aka Brown County S.

The intersections at Delanglade Street, Hyland Avenue and a different Freedom Road interchange, aka County N, in Outagamie County, would be rebuilt in their current configurations, Ebel said.

5. Building a new weigh station, State Patrol HQ

Plans also call for the existing weigh station just south of Wrightstown to be demolished and rebuilt. 

The state has enough land at the weigh station site that it plans for a new building there that would house the weigh enforcement operation as well as a new northeast region headquarters for the Wisconsin State Patrol.

The State Patrol's current regional office is in the Fond du Lac area.  

The DOT calls the existing weigh station "functionally obsolete."

"If we can make this work, it makes sense to have (State Patrol) relocate and build a little bigger," Ebel said. 

6. Having your say in the project proposals

There will be three public hearings, two in-person and one virtual, to review the project details. 

"It allows (members of the public) that opportunity to provide comments, negative or positive about the project," Ebel said. "We definitely encourage people who have comments to come to these meetings and provide them."

The schedule includes: 

  • A live, virtual public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday that can be streamed via YouTube
  • An in-person hearing from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Hemlock Creek Elementary School, 1900 Williams Grant Drive, in De Pere. 
  • An in-person hearing from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the D.J. Bordini Center, 5 N. Systems Drive, Appleton, on the Fox Valley Technical College campus.  

The in-person meeting locations have room capacity guidelines, so the DOT is asking attendees to schedule a time to attend before the meeting. To do so, call Melissa (Missy) Kok, I-41 Project communications manager, at 920-492-5743 anytime from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. People without appointments may be asked to wait outside the facility until space is available.  

Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or jbollier@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GBstreetwise

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Six things to know about Wisconsin's plan to expand I-41 from Appleton to De Pere, including more roundabouts and public hearings

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