Graham Kilmer

North Avenue Bridge Project Finished

Say goodbye to those pesky detours as Milwaukee County finishes job.

By - Jun 30th, 2022 05:15 pm
North Avenue bridge over the Oak Leaf Trail has reopened. Photo taken June 30, 2022 by Graham Kilmer.

North Avenue bridge over the Oak Leaf Trail has reopened. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

The North Avenue bridge over the Oak Leaf Trail, largely unnoticed until it needed repair, is fixed, just in time for the holiday weekend.

The detours, zigzagging travelers around the neighborhood south of E. North Ave. are finally over. Good news for the many thousands of people that will head to Milwaukee’s lakefront this weekend for the return of the annual July 3 fireworks.

The project, which cut off all through traffic on E. North Ave. at a heavily traveled connection to the East Side, really started in 2019. When large holes began to form in the bridge’s concrete deck – some a foot in diameter – emergency repairs were quickly made to keep the bridge viable until the entire bridge deck could be rebuilt.

Despite its location on the city of Milwaukee’s street grid, the bridge is owned by Milwaukee County. The bridge spans a former railroad corridor, now the county-owned Oak Leaf Trail, and as a result is the responsibility of Milwaukee County Parks.

In February this year, the $1 million project to repair the bridge began. It entailed rebuilding not just the bridge deck, but also replacing some of the 50-ton concrete girders that make up the superstructure, which is the thing that supports the bridge between the large columns holding the whole thing up.

The project was managed by Milwaukee County Department of Transportation, Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the engineering firm GRAEF. WisDOT provided 80% of the funding, and the county covered the remainder.

Milwaukee County Parks has struggled against its massive backlog of capital projects, estimated to have a total price tag of nearly half a billion dollars. This bridge is an example of some of the critical infrastructure, beyond the recreational assets, that is on that list.

“The obligation of the parks department and the county to repair the North Avenue bridge is just another example of how far-reaching the obligations of the parks department are,” James Tarantino, interim deputy director of parks, told Urban Milwaukee in February.

The parks and recreation services offered by Milwaukee County do not have a dedicated source of funding, and have been regularly cut, like many county services, for more than a decade to balance the county budget which has seen a real-dollar decline in state revenue of $455 million since 2010.

When critical infrastructure, like a bridge, is on a list of projects jockeying for funding, Tarantino said in February, it begins to raise questions of whether parks should be in charge of these assets.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article said the bridge was part of a county trunk highway. Milwaukee County lists the Oak Leaf Trail bridges on its county trunk highway bridge report, but they are in county ownership because of the county’s acquisition of the railroad corridor.

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