Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Wells Street Lift Bridge over the Milwaukee River

Milwaukee, WI

The Wells Street Lift Bridge is one of the most used Milwaukee River crossings in downtown Milwaukee. After decades of service, the deteriorating three-span vertical lift bridge was in need of structural and aesthetic improvements.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the City of Milwaukee opted to rehabilitate the structure, selecting Benesch to lead construction engineering and inspection services. The project replaced several mechanical, electrical and hydraulic components, in addition to bridge control system upgrades which allow for remote operation. Roadway approaches were reconstructed and sidewalks and curb ramps were replaced to meet ADA compliance standards. Safety improvements include the addition of a two-tube aluminum rail to separate pedestrian and vehicular traffic along the curb side of the sidewalk.

Virtually every structural component of the project required customized design and fabrication methods in order to properly size, fit and install rehabilitated structural machinery. An innovative process for machining and modifying certain elements, rather than replacing them with new parts, reduced potential costs and production lead times.

The project team successfully navigated several challenges. Shifts in the project schedule allowed construction to take place during the off-season to prevent business impacts along the river; corroded structural steel removal and sand-blasting were managed using a large enclosure with a special pressure vacuum system to keep debris and material contained; abrasive recycling prevented paint from contaminating the river and surrounding area. The team also performed detailed trouble-shooting survey and frequently checked lift span component locations and elevations throughout construction.

The successful rehabilitation of this structure provides a safer, more visually appealing crossing for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, while complementing the area’s surrounding environment and waterway.

Project highlights

  • Rehabilitation of existing vertical lift bridge in an urban area
  • Maintaining pedestrian access to downtown facilities
  • New bridge control systems for future remote operation
  • Utility coordination
  • Accessibility and safety improvements