Jeramey Jannene

Expect The Hoan Bridge Debate To Heat Up

By - Jun 24th, 2009 06:34 am
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The Hoan BridgeLike the temperature outside, the Hoan Bridge reconstruction debate will heat up over the next few weeks.  Alderman Robert Bauman, who represents downtown Milwaukee and the north end of the bridge, recently issued a press release that details how the city will likely position itself on the issues with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT).

The release indicates positions we have advocated for before, including the need for the bridge to better interact with the city at its northern terminus at Clybourn and Lincoln Memorial Drive.

One should not hold out hope that the city gets everything it asks for though.  As evidence of how little influence they city may have in the issue, Mayor Barrett and Common Council President Hines were mere attendees at the Marquette Interchange ribbon cutting.  They stood among the crowd, while Governor Doyle and Transportation Secretary Busalacchi unveiled their $800 million interchange.  There might not be better symbolism for highway building than that.  The city can yell all it wants, but will the state listen?


Bridge reconstruction is expected to be completed in 2013.  The timeframe for such a redevelopment is relatively fast.


The entire structure is in need of serious maintenance in the form of a redecking.  Running from the eastern half of Interstate 794 downtown to the south end of the bridge where it touches down in Bay View.

Who Uses It

The bridge serves primarily Bay View, St. Francis, and other southside residents looking to enter downtown and nearby neighborhoods.  It likewise provides access for individuals downtown looking to get to the airport.

Who Builds It

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will award and manage contracts for bridge reconstruction.  The City of Milwaukee is not the project manager by any means.


Simply rebuilding the bridge as is was estimated at $200 million, and some sort of rebuild is viewed as necessary for safety reasons.  A considerable amount of money is going to need to be spent, even just to maintain the status quo.

Bauman’s Proposed Principles

Alderman Bauman’s press release revealed a series of principles to be introduced to the full Common Council on July 7th.

  • The bridge and its approaches must use the existing right-of-way and substantially the same footprint.
  • The bridge’s approaches must remain elevated over all land uses currently beneath the approaches, including but not limited to the Port of Milwaukee, MMSD and the Maier festival park.
  • Any moveable bridge spans must have sufficient clearance over the (average) water level to minimize bridge openings for non-commercial vessels.
  • Bridge openings must be limited to non-peak traffic periods, except in emergencies.
  • The bridge and its approaches must accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
  • The bridge and its approaches must be limited to two travel lanes and one distress lane, bicycle lane and pedestrian sidewalk in each direction.
  • The lake shore interchange must be eliminated and replaced by an at-grade intersection or roundabout in the approximate location of Clybourn Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive.
  • All new or reconstructed structures must be designed with lighting and architectural elements developed in consultation with the City of Milwaukee.


It seems perfectly reasonable to assume that the completely elevated bridge could be rebuilt in a fashion much more respectful to the city, that doesn’t impair motorists’ ability to enter downtown.  Drivers looking to enter downtown might actually have a better experience being dropped to street-level faster (the street grid gives options) at the north end of the bridge.  Also, while much of the land over which the bridge crosses isn’t developable, the land at the north end of the bridge holds a lot of potential.  A bridge that better interacts with the city could pay dividends in the form of a healthier neighborhood and increased tax base.

Cost is something to consider, and dropping the bridge to an intersection at the north end would likely mean the loss of the Interstate designation and some amount of federal funding.  That isn’t a reason not to do a highway rebuild though, as the state has shown by spending $400 million rebuilding Highway 26 from Janesville to Watertown, which includes the addition of by-passes around towns smaller than the Bay View neighborhood.


6 thoughts on “Expect The Hoan Bridge Debate To Heat Up”

  1. Max says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong – I thought the first consideration is redecking the bridge which will cost millions. I didn’t think the bridge was due for a complete tear-down/rebuild for another 10-15 years???

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Max That is true, it is possible to redeck the bridge, but it would then still need to be replaced not long thereafter. It appears WisDOT has likely ruled that option out, as the Business Journal said…

    “The Hoan Bridge study, first reported by The Business Journal Aug. 22, points out the state would spend $80 million less through 2025 to replace the bridge than to pay for maintenance on the 2.5-mile span.”

  3. matthew says:

    The redecking would cost $200,000,000 and the bridge would still need to be replaced in 50 years.

  4. Suzanne says:

    “As evidence of how little influence the city may have in the issue, Mayor Barrett and Common Council President Hines were mere attendees at the Marquette Interchange ribbon cutting.”
    My husband has maintained for years that its purpose (both the Marquette and the interstate in general) is for people to get comfortably and conveniently from one far-flung burb to another without having to see “the hood.”

    Personally, I love the Hoan Bridge. It’s such a graceful design and honors Milwaukee’s proud Socialist history; Mayor Dan Hoan did a lot of great things for the city before “Socialist” sadly became an epithet roughly equivalent to “mofo.” It’s a beautiful symbol of our harbor and of our city.

  5. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Matthew, @Max

    This is probably the best article I have seen on the costs.

    I used reconstructed in the article. I should have used “redecked” in association with the $200 million cost. Thanks for drawing my attention to that.

  6. Dan says:

    I think that Alderman Bauman’s goals fail to provide any clear direction on this issue. Everything that he mentions is common sense to all generations of Milwaukeeans.

    It seems the DOT/State has positioned itself to tear the Hoan down – otherwise they would have never released the HNTB study to the public. They would have found another study that says it is more cost effective to keep the Hoan.

    The Hoan has no character – in fact there are many identical bridges across the country (see Green Bay) that were built during the same period, so I agree with the state that it should be torn down. Depending on the rebuild solution, I think residents of the south side communities will be okay with this as well.

    In my opinion, the most critical piece of the new roadway is the portion from the Marquette Interchange (Milwaukee St. overpass) to the river (Marcus Amphitheater). We know that a bridge needs to be built over the river/MMSD that allows for shipping yet is efficient for vehicle traffic, so that southern portion is less important to economic development. the north piece must be built AT GROUND LEVEL similar to Lincoln Memorial Drive. Otherwise, the Italian Community Center and other parking lot operators will sit on their land for the rest of time, because it is more profitable to rent parking daily and for the festivals than it is to build new buildings. It is crazy to think that Milwaukee’s most vibrant urban neighborhood – which continues to grow in a recession, has not moved east toward the lake. The barrier to development must be removed because it will also allow the CBD to grow south to the 3rd ward at Jackson, Van Buren, etc.

    This will likely be a debate with two sides – south siders and baby boomers vs. urban dwellers and generation x. Let’ s make the right choice people – think about getting development up to the current Hoan footprint and what it will do for Milwaukee – southsiders – it will only add about 60 seconds to your commute.

    None of my out of town guests have ever said anything to compliment the Hoan (as opposed to 6th viaduct) – this is not by accident.

    Bring on the debate!

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