Jeramey Jannene

Wisconsin Loses Out on Stadium Freeway Grant

City-county-state effort sought $2 million grant to study converting it to a boulevard.

By - Mar 1st, 2023 03:00 pm
Wisconsin Highway 175. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Wisconsin Highway 175. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The effort to convert the Stadium Freeway in Milwaukee to a boulevard received a blow Tuesday. The joint city-county-state effort did not secure a $2 million planning grant from a new federal program.

The proposal calls for studying the conversion of Wisconsin Highway 175 between W. Wisconsin Ave. and W. Lisbon Ave. into a boulevard. 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 immediate impact on the effort is unclear. At a May 2022 press conference to announce the planning process, Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) deputy director Roberto Gutierrez said the state was committed to funding what would be a $2 million to $3 million planning effort. The project partners said they would also pursue outside funds, including the new U.S. Department of Transportation Reconnecting Communities program.

In a statement provided after this article was first published, a department spokesperson said: “WisDOT remains fully committed to the study of reimagining WIS 175 and the potential future of the corridor. The study continues to move forward.”

Officials have previously expressed enthusiasm for the project.

“Now is the time to correct the flawed infrastructure of our predecessors,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson at the 2022 press conference. “Currently this freeway serves as a dividing line between these neighborhoods solely for the use of cars.”

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

“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 at the 2022 announcement.

But the project partners will have to pursue that change without extra federal help for now.

The proposal, and a handful of other Wisconsin applications, was not among the 45 winners announced Tuesday by the federal agency.

“The Department prioritized applications from economically disadvantaged communities, especially those focused on equity and environmental justice, and that demonstrated strong community engagement and stewardship, and would catalyze shared prosperity in its development and job creation,” said USDOT in a press release announcing the $185 million grant awards. The program is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

A similar project in Baltimore was funded and highlighted by the federal agency.

The Milwaukee partners will get another kick at the can.

Another new program, funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, is expected to launch this spring. Also focused on reconnecting communities, it will be known as the Neighborhood Access and Equity Grant Program.

The 1.5-mile spur originally opened in 1962. It was planned as part of a largely-unbuilt network of freeway loops that would encircle Milwaukee.

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, while increasing it for some trips.

At its southern end, the freeway feeds into the Stadium Interchange and Interstate 94. The project to reconstruct and expand the east-west freeway is advancing independent of the STH-175 project.

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.

Other Projects Miss Out

A total of 11 grant requests, totaling $21 million. were submitted to the Reconnecting Communities grant program from Wisconsin.

WisDOT also sought $2 million to study “Reimaging the National Avenue Interchange.” It is not immediately clear if that includes the National Avenue ramps in Walker’s Point on Interstate 43/94 or the National Avenue ramps on Interstate 894 in West Allis. WisDOT is pursuing the rehabilitation of ramps in Walker’s Point and on Milwaukee’s South Side.

The City of Milwaukee was unsuccessful in securing $2 million to study reconnecting the Hillside neighborhood, located just northwest of Deer District and north of The Brewery District to Downtown. The neighborhood, site of a large Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee complex, was disconnected by the since-demolished Park East Freeway and remains cut off by the new McKinley Avenue ramp to Interstate 43.

Menomonee Valley Partners applied for $218,125 to attempt to better connect the valley with the Near West Side neighborhoods north of Interstate 94.

Other applications were submitted by the cities of Green Bay, Stevens Point, Madison, Hudson and West Bend and the Village of Wrightstown as well as by the Mauston-based nonprofit Basics & Beyond Co.

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

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