Bookmark and Share

The Process Behind Road Construction

Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works strives to maintain nearly 1,300 miles of city streets through paving projects and/or street reconstruction. In the 5th District, the process begins with Alderman Bohl’s regular trips each year along city streets that have been identified as potential targets for repair.

“DPW maintains detailed street condition records, and of course it is also common for residents to contact the city to report roadway conditions that may need attention,” said Alderman Bohl.

DPW staff also checks a six-year plan database to see whether a project is already scheduled for that area, and if it isn’t, they send someone out to assess the problem and assign it a paving year. These potential paving projects are reviewed as a whole on a regular basis, updated to reflect their priority based on street condition and programmed as funding allows for the first three years. The last three years reflect priority only.

Additionally, projects that are funded with state and federal money must take place on designated arterials or collectors. These projects are managed in the Major Projects Section, and must be completed through an agreement and approval process with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which invariably takes longer than the residential street projects.

Before the first shovel of dirt is even turned, some preliminary engineering has to be taken care of. If preliminary engineering is not already available for a project, the Milwaukee Common Council has to pass a resolution authorizing funding for it. Then, field engineers set to work to develop a plan. They are tasked with determining whether the project can simply be resurfaced with asphalt or whether it is in need of total reconstruction, and they also decide the extent of curb, gutter and sidewalk replacement.

Once an estimate has been prepared on the quantities and costs of a project, a public hearing is scheduled. Prior to the hearing, Alderman Bohl will conduct a postcard survey or may hold a night meetings to determine if a project has support from the neighborhood. If a project is approved, it will be grouped into a contract based on the type of work and its location. If deleted, projects may be reconsidered in five to six years.

The DPW Construction Division prepares specifications and then advertises for bids on the approved projects, and the contractor who submits the low bid then does the work based on their own schedule. The work typically does not begin until after abutting and adjacent property owners in the affected areas are notified of the upcoming project.

In the case of roadway repaving projects, crews begin by carrying out any needed utility work on sewers or private utilities. Throughout the duration of the project, some residents will have access to their driveways or alleys, except for the few hours when equipment or work is directly blocking the route. Crews remove sidewalks, curbs, gutters and even part or all of some driveway approaches, then set to work replacing those. Finally, they prepare the existing pavement for the placement of asphalt and resurface the road.

However, full roadway reconstruction can be a bit more disruptive to everyday life, as it requires the stretch to be completely closed to traffic. Crews will remove the old roadway, along with the curbs, gutters, sidewalks and driveway approaches, and then begin any necessary utility work. Heavy equipment operators will “grade” the material that supports a new roadway, and crews will install new curbs, gutters, sidewalks and driveway approaches first. Then, and only then, is the project ready to be completed with a brand new asphalt or concrete.

Many neighbors report concerns with what they perceive to be prolonged periods of inactivity in their neighborhood construction sites. There are several possible explanations, including weather, and time needed to allow new surfaces to cure or harden.

It is important to note that the roadway projects are awarded on a low-bid contract that sets a fixed cost for the project. Contractors usually face penalties for delays and work that goes past a certain set deadline. Included in the contract is a penalty per day if the number of work days or the completion date is exceeded. Inactivity at a project site does not necessarily mean that the project is not moving forward; inactivity does NOT mean the project is costing the city (and taxpayers).

Payment and Funding Process for Street and Alley Reconstruction
In the not-too-distant past, when local roads and neighborhood side streets in Milwaukee were reconstructed curb to curb, the bill for the work was a 50/50 split, with the city paying for 50% and abutting property owners paying 50%. The implementation of the wheel tax has eliminated that 50/50 split, and today the city uses the tax levy and wheel tax funds to cover the entire bill for local road/side street reconstruction. NOTE: Driveway approaches and sidewalk squares replaced as part of a local road/side street reconstruction project are NOT covered by the city; there is a 70/30 split for those costs, with the city covering 70% and the abutting property owner 30%.

For alley reconstruction projects, there is a 60/40 split, with the city paying for 60% and abutting property owners paying 40%. All alley reconstruction projects go before the Public Works Committee during a public hearing. If an alley reconstruction project is approved by the committee, all abutting property owners will be assessed. A bill will not be sent to property owners until 2 years after the committee approval of the project. When a property owner receives a bill, they will have 60 days to pay their entire assessable portion of the bill, or they may opt to split the cost over six years as a 1/6 payment added to their property tax bill. For property owners who choose this option, there is a small interest charge (prime lending rate plus a ½ percent). This cost assessment payment process also applies to non-assessable cost for driveway approaches or sidewalks listed above.

The Final Stretch
Once all the heavy equipment has been moved out of a neighborhood, crews will place new top soil and sod where it’s needed. Once the sod has taken hold in about two or three weeks, it once again becomes the property owner’s responsibility to maintain it.

Neighbors should remember that even after the paving crews are gone, city staff is conducting periodic reviews of the project for a month after the work ceases, and it is only after these are finished that a supervisor can sign off on a project as “complete.” Also, city construction supervisors review all projects three years after completion, and if any work needs to be replaced, it is done at the contractor’s cost.

For more information please call 286-2460.