Jeramey Jannene

West Side Freeway-to-Boulevard Study Advances

City has first-of-its-kind formal role in study of 1.5-mile Highway 175.

By - Mar 27th, 2023 02:14 pm
Wisconsin Highway 175. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Wisconsin Highway 175. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Despite a failure to secure a federal grant to fund it, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee are jointly moving forward on a study of rebuilding Wisconsin Highway 175 (WIS 175). City officials say the partnership, which could end years from now with 1.5 miles of the freeway becoming a boulevard, is a first-of-its-kind agreement that gives the city formal input in the design.

A memorandum of understanding lays out that WisDOT will pay for the study, but the city will be the lead partner on land-use recommendations and that the entire project will adhere to the city’s Complete Streets policy.

“What this file does is give the city and county some kind of teeth to be involved hand and hand as they go through the redevelopment of this particular roadway,” said Department of Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke in briefing the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee on March 14. “This is a really positive move forward.”

“It’s really a first,” said Department of City Development (DCD) planner Monica Wauck Smith. “Without this memorandum of understanding, the city would be in a weaker position to advocate for our interests.”

The study covers all of the freeway that runs from W. Wisconsin Ave. to W. Lisbon Ave. (Highway 175 becomes a roadway after this.) 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 partners announced their intent to study a freeway-to-boulevard conversion last May, but, in late February, it was revealed that they failed to secure a $2 million planning grant from U.S. Department of Transportation‘s newly-created Reconnecting Communities program. WisDOT said it was still committed to funding the study. GRAEF is serving as a consultant on the process.

The partnership agreement calls for the study to be completed by the end of 2024. At least three public involvement meetings are to be held, with the first tentatively planned for May 2023. Multiple alternatives are to be evaluated.

“Is this an exercise or can this actually lead to physical changes? Because I’m skeptical,” said Alderman Robert Bauman. “This looks like an exercise, and I think people should be transparent about this.” He said it was key that the proposal be included in the state’s transportation improvement program, which delineates all projects intended to advance in the next four years. “None of that is underway at this point.”

Kruschke said the study would provide guidance for WisDOT to move forward, including helping identify what type and how much state and federal funding was needed for construction.

“This is a normal process we go through to get buy-in to say ‘this is the way we want to go,'” said WisDOT project development manager Bunmi Olapo.

“What’s the earliest this could happen?” asked Bauman. He asked if 10 years was reasonable.

“It’s hard to say,” said Olapo.

Bauman said he wished WisDOT would apply the sort of urgency used for highway expansion around the Foxconn campus. “They went from concept to letting contracts in nine months. I don’t remember any collaborations, any studies, any public meetings of any consequence, any input from other stakeholders,” said the alderman.

“There is some truth to what he said,” said Ald. Michael Murphy of Bauman’s comments. Murphy, who represents the area, said he’s heard support and opposition for the WIS 175 conversion from his constituents.

He said the current corridor “works” from a traffic flow standpoint and conversion might be a hard sell to outstate Republican legislators. But he’s pleased to see the study move forward. “I think it’s really a positive sign to see [WisDOT] working collaboratively with the city,” said Murphy. “In the past [WisDOT] was simply ‘don’t bother us, the answer is no.'”

The alderman said he hoped any reconfiguration would result in improvements at the freeway’s northern terminus, where his district borders that of Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II.

“What we would like to see is more business development over there,” said Murphy of the Uptown commercial corridor. “People come off that going 55, 60 miles per hour. They don’t slow down. They go straight onto Appleton Avenue like a bat out of hell… Anything we can do to slow down traffic and encourage business growth is a positive thing.”

Stamper said he’s optimistic about the process and its potential to secure federal funding.

“This will be a robust planning and engineering study with many opportunities for the community to engage in many different formats,” said Wauck Smith. “It’s important to note that we are at the very, very beginning of this process. I just want to emphasize that no decisions have been made.”

But the city does have some precedent for what it wants. In 2017, a DCD study of freeway reconfiguration options north of W. Lloyd St. concluded that a freeway-to-boulevard conversion was the preferred choice. It also purchased the 51,220-square-foot lot between the north-south ramps at the end of the freeway for $270,000. Mayor Cavalier Johnson publicly endorsed a conceptual boulevard conversion in May 2022.

The new study extends the evaluated corridor further south, to the edge of the Stadium Interchange with Interstate 94. WisDOT is proposing to expand that east-west freeway and completely redesign the interchange as part of a project expected to cost at least $1.2 billion.

Photos and Study Area

Categories: Transportation, Weekly

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us