Major Wisconsin Project Succeeds Despite Constricted Conditions

November 2009 Vol. 64 No. 11
The first stage of the joint trench construction: iinstalling an electric conduit system under University Avenue in Madison, WI.

Big Ten football equals crowds and traffic in the heart of Madison, WI. About 80,000 people poured into Camp Randall for the opening football game for the University of Wisconsin Badgers on Sept. 5.

Many of those fans traveled down University Avenue, where just a few weeks earlier construction crews were laying multiple utilities in a single trench.

Throughout the street reconstruction project, a strict deadline loomed because the city of Madison and University of Wisconsin were adamant that University Avenue open in time for football season.

That deadline was met – but it was not without challenges.

Tight deadline
In October 2008, utilities were given an eight-month notice that the city of Madison was reconstructing University Avenue, a major thoroughfare from the downtown through the campus.

The local combination utility, Madison Gas and Electric Co. (MGE), quickly evaluated its needs. MGE notified the city that it wanted to reinforce its downtown natural gas system and add major underground electric distribution lines to meet future customer demand. Both of these installations are significant energy feeds for Madison and the metro area.

MGE generates and distributes electricity to 137,000 customers in Dane County, WI, and purchases and distributes natural gas to 141,000 customers in seven south central and western Wisconsin counties. MGE is the principal subsidiary of MGE Energy.

American Transmission Co. (ATC) said it was essential that an underground electric transmission pipe be added for future load growth. ATC owns, operates, builds and maintains the high voltage electric transmission system serving portions of Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota
and Illinois.

By December 2008, the city reviewed the utility infrastructure needs and the looming deadline. Its engineers – working with MGE and ATC – came up with a solution. The only way the work could progress on schedule was if gas, electric distribution and electric transmission shared one trench and worked simultaneously.

Tight spaces
This may have been the first time in Wisconsin that these major types of utilities shared one trench.

Due to utility construction work, traffic flow was reduced to one or two lanes on University Avenue. Heavy downtown vehicle traffic backed up and crawled past workers. Students on foot, bikes and mopeds zipped through the area. Getting construction equipment in and out of the area was difficult.