Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Parks Planning Oak Leaf Trail Projects

Seeking federal grant money to build new ramp and modernize bike paths.

By - Jul 29th, 2021 10:47 am
Oak Leaf Trail Access Ramp to UW-Milwaukee. Image from Milwaukee County Parks.

Oak Leaf Trail Access Ramp to UW-Milwaukee. Image from Milwaukee County Parks.

Milwaukee County Parks has ideas for several improvements it would like to make to the Oak Leaf Trail Network, and they include fixing another sinkhole.

The cash strapped parks department is always seeking new sources of revenue and struggles to fund even maintenance of the parks system. So it’s looking at a federal grant program aimed at reducing transportation related emissions called the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant to potentially make some investments and some repairs to the 130-mile Oak Leaf Trail network.

On Milwaukee’s East Side, in the Cambridge Woods neighborhood, the department would like to add another access point to the Oak Leaf that would better serve students at UW-Milwaukee.

Sarah Toomsen, manager of planning and development for the department, explained to the County Board’s Parks, Energy and Environment Committee this month that the department sees the Oak Leaf as “a commuting resource as well as a recreational resource.”

With this in mind the department has developed what it’s calling the Hampshire Ramp Access Project. What it envisions is a ramp that connects the Oak Leaf trail to N. Cambridge Avenue, roughly two blocks north of E. Locust St.

There are access points in the area north and south of the Cambridge Woods neighborhood. One is a ramp near the Urban Ecology Center and Riverside University High School, the other is at the very north end of the neighborhood near E. Providence Avenue.

The project, Toomsen said, would create a point of access that many in the neighborhood have expressed support for. It also would provide a direct connection between UW-Milwaukee and the Oak Leaf, as E. Hampshire St. runs into the southwest corner of the university campus.

The Hampshire project would also be a way to secure funding for a major repair. At this point along the Oak Leaf, the department has been struggling with sinkholes forming due to an old tunnel that runs directly underneath the trail. If the county can secure funding for the ramp project it would include in its scope of work any work needed on the tunnel to alleviate the “repeated sinkholes” occurring along this section of the trail, Toomsen said.

Recently, the parks department managed to cobble together funds to repair a major sinkhole in Glendale using a federal transportation grant and some private donations.

For this project, the department is planning to apply for $1.6 million in CMAQ funding. It’s also planning to submit a proposal for approximately $3.5 million more in grant funding.

This funding would pay for modernization work throughout the Oak Leaf network. There are more than a dozen sections of trail that lack the proper dimensions or construction standards for trails built today, Toomsen said, and some segments that are failing structurally.

“So we really want to pursue this kind of funding in order to bring our trail network system up to snuff,” she said.

This work is not currently eligible under the CMAQ guidelines, but Toomsen said the department is working to convince the state Department of Transportation, which disburses the grants for the Federal Transit Administration, to approve the projects for CMAQ eligibility.

The department also plans to include a project in its application that would fund painting a bridge over I-43 along the Zip Line section of the Oak Leaf. The painting work would be to preserve the surfaces of the bridge, as well as advertise the trail as a commuting option.

The board’s committee unanimously approved the parks department’s proposed application.

One thought on “MKE County: Parks Planning Oak Leaf Trail Projects”

  1. 45 years in the City says:

    This would be great improvement. The Riverside HS ramp leads to busy Locust St at an un-signalized intersection. Given habitual speeding across the Locust St. bridge and traffic volumes, crossing as a pedestrian or cyclist is dangerous.
    The Providence Ave entrance is too far from the center of campus to be useful.

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