Jeramey Jannene

Should Milwaukee Remove A Second Freeway?

1.5-mile-long Wisconsin Highway 175, formerly US 41, could become a boulevard.

By - May 4th, 2022 05:13 pm
Wisconsin Highway 175. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Wisconsin Highway 175. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

It’s official. The city, county and state are jointly studying whether to remove a second freeway spur in Milwaukee.

A new study, expected to take 18 months, will explore the feasibility of reconfiguring or removing Wisconsin Highway 175 (STH-175) between W. Wisconsin Ave. and W. Lisbon Ave. The 1.5-mile spur originally opened in 1962, planned as part of a largely-unbuilt network of freeway loops that would encircle Milwaukee.

“Now is the time to correct the flawed infrastructure of our predecessors,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson at a press conference Wednesday in Washington Park. “Currently this freeway serves as a dividing line between these neighborhoods solely for the use of cars.”

The six-lane roadway separates the Washington Heights neighborhood on the west from the Washington Park neighborhood to the east. It terminates just south of W. North Ave. in the Uptown neighborhood.

“The time for change is always now,” said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.

Both Johnson and Crowley, the first elected Black individuals to hold their positions, noted the amount of devastation freeway projects often had on Black neighborhoods. “We continue to feel the effect of those decisions today,” said Crowley.

“Highways like this have left permanent scars on the city of Milwaukee,” said Johnson.

The two have now found a willing partner in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to explore how the aging stadium freeway could be improved.

“We are really excited that we are at the point where we can look and imagine what 175 can look like,” said WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson.

They also have an ally in Representative Evan Goyke, who both Johnson and Crowley credited with introducing and advancing the idea.

WisDOT is funding the initial study, estimated to cost $2 million to $3 million. Future project costs could be funded in part by the forthcoming reconnecting communities program as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Twenty years ago the same partners — city, county and state — agreed to replace the Park East Freeway spur with a boulevard, reconnecting Downtown with adjacent neighborhoods and freeing up dozens of acres of land that now houses Fiserv Forum, the Deer District and a host of other developments.

It’s unclear what shape a reconfigured STH-175, previously known as 41, could take. The current configuration offers only five opportunities to cross the freeway between W. Wisconsin Ave. and W. Lisbon Ave. Similar to the Park East reconfiguration, converting it to a boulevard could allow better integration into the street grid, reducing travel times for many trips.

Urban Milwaukee, as part of its Intersections column, published an opinion piece by John O’Neill in 2016 exploring options for replacing the freeway with a boulevard and reconfiguring the northern on-off ramps. The city studied conceptual redevelopment options for the same stretch in 2017. It also purchased the 51,220-square-foot lot between the north-south ramps at the end of the freeway for $270,000. Johnson said it would give the city more control and flexibility in reconfiguring the freeway.

A reconfiguration could also open up more access to Wick Playfield, Doyne Park and Washington Park, each of which directly border the freeway. Crowley noted that some people need to go a half-mile out of their way to access the parks today.

At its southern end, the freeway feeds into the Stadium Interchange and Interstate 94. A supplemental environmental impact study is underway on the state’s proposal to expand that freeway, with the interchange responsible for an estimated $440 million of the $1.2 billion cost to rebuild the east-west freeway.

Thompson said the STH-175 study wouldn’t impact the timeline of the east-west freeway project, but that WisDOT is studying options to reconfigure the interchange. “I think you will see changes,” said Thompson. And referring to regional WisDOT Deputy Director Roberto Gutierrez and his staff, Thompson added that “Whatever we do on 175, the folks here assure me that it’s going to work together.”

The press conference drew dozens of attendees, including a number of supporters of the “Fix at Six” proposal for the east-west freeway.

Thompson promised a robust community engagement process as part of the new study that would include residents as well as businesses. A number of industrial users are located near the south end of the corridor, including Molson Coors and Harley-Davidson.

North of Wisconsin Avenue, STH-175 sees 67,400 vehicles per day according to 2019 WisDOT data. The traffic volume falls to 51,600 vehicles per day north of W. Vliet St. The parallel Interstate 41 and Interstate 43 corridors each see in excess of 150,000 vehicles per day. The Hoan Bridge, part of Interstate 794, sees 38,700 vehicles per day.


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Categories: Transportation, Weekly

6 thoughts on “Transportation: Should Milwaukee Remove A Second Freeway?”

  1. Polaris says:

    I get the need for a study. And, this seems like a no-brainer to me. I mean, what could possibly be the argument for keeping it as is?

  2. NieWiederKrieg says:

    We were told that the environment was being destroyed by over population when I went to school in the 1960’s… There were 3 billion people then… there’s 8 billion now.

    There are 3 times more people now… and 3 times more concrete, asphalt, cars, pollution, poverty, unemployment, crime, guns, disease, homelessness, wars…

    Maybe the best solution to our transportation problems is birth control.

  3. danlarsen7007 says:

    Just a couple months ago, my wife and I were driving on I94 and I questioned aloud “I wonder how long before they decide this freeway spur is useless and replace it with a nicer, more inviting boulevard?” Little did I know it would be a precursor to this study.

    Actually, it’s about time. Some freeways make sense, some freeways don’t. Hwy 175 makes no sense. A nicely landscaped and inviting boulevard would work well. When I lived in the city (many years ago) I’d travel from the northwest side to my job at Falk using the Lisbon/Hwy 175 corridor. It wasn’t bad using the freeway, but a nice boulevard would’ve worked just as well.

    I think it’s a good idea, long overdue.

  4. Duane says:

    I like Highway 175 the way it is. The improvements probably will lead to more traffic and ugly “national” (as opposed to local) commercial buildings lining the boulevard. For me it is a nice link to Lisbon Avenue (from National Avenue)

  5. Larry Krolikowski says:

    Duane has a good point. If this turns into a “boulevard” like Miller Parkway, lined with chain stores and restaurants, it would be a missed opportunity. The devil is in the details…

  6. bigb_andb says:

    i’d say complete the connection to 94 or downtown. Relief some of the 94 traffic.

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