LITTLE CHUTE, Wis. (WFRV) – Construction on Interstate Highway 41 will begin in the spring in Kaukauna, and it will soon follow in five other locations stretching from De Pere to Appleton. It is part of a plan to both repave and widen the surface, as well as some of the interchanges.
That includes the County Highway N interchange in Little Chute, which will be shut down after the 4th of July until at least Labor Day weekend, if not longer.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation members met with local business owners and residents in Little Chute Tuesday morning to address concerns that attendees had.
“We wanted to talk to the businesses at the County N interchange area about that specific closure, what impact they might see to their businesses, how can we best mitigate those impacts, work with the businesses about temporary signing, access during construction,” Wisconsin DOT I-41 Corridor Project manager Scott Ebel said.
Detours to Wisconsin Highway 55 in Kaukauna will be necessary during the 6-10 week projected construction period. Ebel understands that there are a lot of unknowns that come with the detours, particularly about access and signage.
“How do customers access their business, how does that temporary business signing work, how do we get permits for those signs to be placed in [the] public right of way,” Ebel said. “We’re also hearing a lot from some of the larger commercial entities in the area about ‘how do we access our businesses that may be closed off during construction.’”
Permits have to be obtained from the DOT to place temporary signs in the public right of way along the detour route, and business owners have to pay for the signs themselves. The DOT is recommending that business owners communicate with each other and the agency to determine the businesses listed on one large sign rather than many smaller ones.
Besides heavy travel, Ebel understands that Labor Day weekend can be a large source of revenue for businesses.
“We’re going to try to open up pieces of the interchange a little earlier ahead of Labor Day, recognizing that there are business concerns here about access to customers, but recognizing that overall it will be a 6 to 10-week closure,” he said.
Robert Rotter is the manager of the Moasis Travel Plaza and knows that the closure of the interchange that his shop is off of is going to make a dent in his business.
“The summertime is usually the peak time because of everyone traveling,” he said. “That’ll make a big difference. It’ll be interesting to see how big of a difference.”
Rotter thinks that, long-term, the project is going to be a positive thing for his business, but he knows that he will be hurting from it towards the end of next summer.
“It’s kind of double-sided,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea because it’s really congested on 41 during the rush hours, but in terms of business, it’s going to be bad.”
Usually, his location makes the BP gas station, convenience store, and fast food stop a prime spot on the map for motorists.
“Being right off the highway, it’s nice, and then with the truck stop, we have McDonald’s and Subway in here,” Rotter said.
Now he worries how many of them will find his travel plaza and is not sure if he will buy into the signage idea – literally.
“It’s a good idea for making sure that people still know there are ways to get here,” he said. “But I guess it depends on the price.”
Oil truck driver Andy Spiegel visits the Moasis Travel Plaza several times each week, but that might change with the construction.
“It’s convenient, this place. I just come here to drop off my paperwork and fuel up my truck,” Spiegel said. “(The construction) possibly could make me find a new location. Backups might be near endless.”
Spiegel has reasons for his suspicions, based on the expansion on I-41 south of Green Bay.
“That was rough for a while, but it was well worth it in the end because of how much nicer Green Bay got to drive through,” he said. “But this could get worse because I feel like the traffic is worse than when they did the Green Bay expansion.”
Spiegel thinks that the construction could cause some truck drivers to retire and already personally knows one who is.
“He’s actually going to retire over this; he’s like, ‘I don’t want to drive through that construction all the time,'” he said. “Anybody that has to use this route that is right on the verge of retirement might say, ‘hey, I’ll just retire instead of keep trucking because it’s just a pain in the neck.”
The “pain in the neck” will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Ebel said that construction of this magnitude will not occur again for several decades, but resurfacing will take place in just a couple of days.
“The overall 1-41 project will run through 2030,” Ebel said. “We design the new highway to accommodate projected traffic volumes through at least 2045. We design new bridges to accommodate at least a 75-year service life.”