Jeramey Jannene
Friday Photos

Lake Park Bridge Overhaul Nears Completion

Bridge to reopen next month after six-year closure

By - Sep 23rd, 2022 05:39 pm
Ravine Road Bridge rehabilitation work. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Ravine Road Bridge rehabilitation work. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

In approximately one month, a key link in Lake Park is planned to reopen.

The Ravine Road Bridge is expected to reopen to pedestrians and bicyclists in mid-to-late October. The footbridge, named for the road it spans, links the northern and southern halves of the mile-long bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

The project is a complete rehabilitation of the 118-foot-long, 10-foot-wide bridge, which was first built in 1905. What to do about the bridge became a hotly-debated topic after a 2014 inspection triggered its closure because of failing concrete and erosion. It reopened in 2015 after an inspection, only to close again in late 2016 with little explanation and remain in that state until it was rehabilitated.

Options considered by Milwaukee County consultants included rehabbing the failing structure, replacing it with a modern design, building a replica structure or eliminating the bridge entirely. Ultimately a complete rehabilitation was selected, avoiding issues with the fact that the park is both locally and nationally historically protected.

But funding the new bridge was also a contested issue, given the strapped Milwaukee County Parks budget and the perceived high wealth of those that live nearby. Then-County Executive Chris Abele pushed a plan for $2 million in private fundraising. But the county ultimately secured a $2 million state grant to build a replacement. The good news was ultimately tempered by the need to pull nearly $1 million from a contingency fund in 2021 after the lowest construction bid came in at $3.4 million, far more than expected. The remainder of the financing gap is being covered by general obligation borrowing.

Lake Park Friends seeded a maintenance fund with $300,000. With interest, the funding is expected to grow sufficiently to cover the $607,000 in expected maintenance costs over the 50-year life of the structure.

But the fight over the future of the bridge is almost entirely in the past now as general contractor Zenith Tech, part of Walbec Group, is putting the finishing touches on the new structure. The new span is expected to open in October, with other work associated with the project finished in November.

One big decision remains after the bridge reopens: what to do with Ravine Road? The steep, winding street has been closed to motor vehicles since December 2014, though plenty of pedestrians have ignored “road closed” signs to take a stroll. The street provides a direct link from the park (and nearby homes) down to Lincoln Memorial Drive and the lakefront.

The original bridge was designed by architect Alfred C. Clas, who, with his partner George B. Ferry also designed the Central Library, the Pabst Mansion and many other buildings. The larger park and its numerous trails were designed by famed parks designer Frederick Law Olmsted. Stylistically, the bridge is designed to complement the grand staircase to its south and other structures within the park.

The two “lion bridges” in the park were rehabbed approximately a decade ago. In November 2014, a truck driver took a semi with an empty load over one of the pedestrian bridges before getting stuck. He blamed his GPS navigation system. The Ravine Road, which was closed the next month, was not impacted. In 2020, a new, wood footbridge opened to the north of the Ravine Road Bridge. It crosses the Locust Street Ravine and was funded in part by Lake Park Friends.

Lake Park Friends and Milwaukee County Parks are engaged in another project in the park currently: trimming back vegetation at the top of the bluff. While large trees remain, a number of bushes and other foliage are being removed. The change restores lake views that had slowly disappeared and, as a result, left newcomers to wonder if benches were installed to look closely at invasive plants. Visitors to the southern edge of the park can now play Pokemon GO with a view of the water, or watch ships come into port while they read the news on their phone.


Pre-Rehabilitation Photos

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3 thoughts on “Friday Photos: Lake Park Bridge Overhaul Nears Completion”

  1. JMcD says:

    I sure hope the roadway will be rebuilt as it used to be. Such a pretty drive, up or down. There are at least 8 walking paths along Lake Park. This should be the wonderful two lane road it used to be. I have heard that many of the “Friends” don’t want that. They offer solutions for something that never was a problem.

  2. George Wagner says:

    I also am for bringing back the road to automobile traffic. Although its winding nature already forces drivers to slow down, putting in 2 or 3 speed humps would also help discourage speeders.

  3. Virginia Small says:

    Graphic designer and neighbor Rebecca Silber played a key role in personally advocating for the bridge’s restoration through a website she created. It served as a clearinghouse with relevant information and resources, including about the process of historic preservation, available grants, etc.

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