Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

No, I-794 Won’t Be Eliminated

Many seem to think state proposal will tear down Hoan Bridge. Nope. Will that change the views of detractors?

By - Jan 31st, 2024 11:30 am
The Hoan Bridge and Lake Michigan becoming hidden by smog. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Hoan Bridge and Lake Michigan becoming hidden by smog. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The headlines gave many people in Milwaukee the idea that I-794 and its iconic Hoan Bridge were going to be torn down.

“Two plans to remove I-794,” declared the Journal Sentinel; “proposal to tear down I-794,” the Business Journal warned; “Prospects for Removing I-794,” Milwaukee Magazine announced; “weigh in on I-794 replacement or removal” offered the Biz Times; and whoops, even Urban Milwaukee had a story about “Potential I-794 Removal.”

Yes, squeezing a complicated story into one punchy headline can mislead people. The full story: the 4.76-mile-long I-794 Freeway is not being removed, torn down or replaced. Nearly four miles of the freeway, including the Hoan Bridge will not be touched in proposals by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT). About 10 blocks of elevated freeway through Downtown connecting I-94 to I-794 will be torn down and replaced by an expanded, four-lane version of E. Clybourn Ave.

Drivers, in short, will still be able to take the current Lincoln Memorial ramp up to the Hoan Bridge and drive all the way to the freeway’s end near College Avenue.

Besides the headlines, it probably didn’t help that some 15 years ago there was a proposal to tear down the Hoan Bridge and replace it with a grade-level roadway, which had southside residents of the county up in arms, and defeated the plan. To many residents this sounded like Deja Vu all over again.

“That was what a lot of people thought, that the whole Hoan Bridge would be taken down,” said Rep. Chris Sinicki, the Democrat whose Assembly District serves the county’s southeast side, in an interview with Urban Milwaukee.

“Yes, people thought it would tear down the Hoan,” said County Supervisor Steven Shea, who serves the same area.

Last May the City of St. Francis passed a resolution that “opposes any transportation alternative that incorporates demolition or decommissioning of the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge or any other part of the existing I-794,” as Erik S. Hanley reported.

A portion of Interstate 794 replaced by a boulevard. Conceptual rendering by Taylor Korslin/Rethink 794

A portion of Interstate 794 replaced by a boulevard. Conceptual rendering by Taylor Korslin/Rethink 794

“We’ve tried to make it as clear as possible, the project doesn’t have anything to do with the Hoan Bridge,” said Taylor Korslin of the advocacy group Rethink 794, which supports the project.

Sinicki and Shea have explained to the many worried constituents they heard from that the project is only in downtown Milwaukee. Whether most voters have come to realize the Hoan Bridge is not at risk is unclear. But both politicians are convinced their districts are very opposed to the project.

“It’s a big issue,” Shea says. “This is going to affect Bay View, St. Francis, Cudahy and South Milwaukee.”

“This is an issue they care a lot about,” Sinicki says.

I lived for nearly a decade in Bay View and took I-794 to Downtown, getting off at the Milwaukee St. exit. Switching to the Lincoln Memorial wouldn’t add more than a few minutes through Downtown, as Korslin estimates.

Shea, however, says the elimination of a freeway linkage between I-794 and the Marquette Interchange is a problem: “People use it to get north and get west. The Hoan Bridge will go back to being a ‘bridge to nowhere’ as far as my constituents are concerned.”

Shea says he doesn’t know how many drivers use this connection. WisDOT estimates that of the 73,900 daily trips through the 10-block stretch of downtown freeway considered for removal, just 26,600 use the entire stretch, meaning some 47,300 trips start or end Downtown.

This has raised concerns of traffic jams in Downtown, which Sinicki says could be an issue. Republican State Sen. Duey Stroebel of Saukville, some 25 miles away, has blasted the I-794 proposal, predicting that “Milwaukee will be plagued with increased traffic congestion and drive times.”

Exactly the same predictions were offered before the one-mile Park East freeway stub, which had an estimated 54,000 daily trips, was taken down. There were no traffic jams and nowadays no one remembers all the doomsday scenarios of opponents. The city grid is very efficient at distributing traffic.

Korslin notes that Clybourn Ave., 6th Street and other downtown streets are currently under used and can accommodate more traffic. His group has also estimated that removing that stretch of downtown freeway could free up as much as 32.5 acres that could be developed as apartments, offices and other buildings with a projected value as high as $1.5 billion. Downtown Milwaukee has some of the state’s most expensive real estate.

But south shore politicians have argued that removing 10 blocks of the freeway, by making I-794 less convenient, could make suburbs like Cudahy less desirable. Could this become a city-versus-suburb issue? Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson “has encouraged a thorough review of the options,” his spokesperson Jeff Fleming told Urban Milwaukee. “While he is open to very significant changes in the configuration of the roadway, he has not yet taken a formal position.” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley has yet to take a stand.

Shea gave the issue a different kind of regional slant: “The south shore suburbs have always felt like they are the poor stepchild, that the North Shore gets preferential treatment.”

Actually the South Shore has two ways to get downtown, via I-43/94 and I-794, while the North Shore has only I-43. But on issues like this emotions often carry more weight than facts.

Options Under Consideration

Freeway Options

Boulevard Options

As-Is Rebuild

3D Renderings

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15 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: No, I-794 Won’t Be Eliminated”

  1. Mzalewski says:

    Totally removing the connection of 794 to the Hoan would be a BIG mistake. Pouring thru traffic on to the city streets – only to get back on the freeway a few blocks later, would just create unnecessary traffic – much of it heavy trucks in the downtown setting. And the Park East comparison is not valid Park East didn’t connect to anything. That freeway stub ended at Ogden Ave. and removing it just moved the ending a few blocks further west.
    The proposed freeway variation the moves the lanes closer together would keep the thru-traffic convenience, allow traffic to move easily from South to the West (and vice-versa) and still free up a lot of development space. Clearly the best solution.
    I have worked downtown, live on the South side, come down for business and recreation. I use this road frequently, coming into downtown, going West or South from downtown, and driving through downtown. Taking out a section of the freeway would just create a huge problem that would only cost more to fix later.

  2. Thomas Sepllman says:

    A rational voice Where are any brains???? Sorry BIG TRUCKS do not belong on city streets where they sit and wait for a bridge to let a pleasure boat move up or down the river.

    WHERE OH WHERE is any common sense????

    On this one follow the money to remove it and that OH we will need to rebuild it or maybe move the harbor BUT where to move the Harbor OH we do not need the harbor All one can say is Hummmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  3. mr_cox says:

    Freeway Concept 6 looks to be the cleanest design and simplest configuration that still frees significant land for development.

  4. MrTea says:

    The Park East freeway removal was the end of the world so many said at the time. The sky was falling and so many predictions at the time of traffic jams and crime and blight and endless nightmares that NEVER occurred. What did we all get by taking down the Park East freeway well just take a drive downtown and you will see all that glitters was and is gold for a city like Milwaukee. I lived in new construction housing where the Park East freeway used to be for two years while much of the corridor was still empty. I left when they started the Bucks arena and my time in that area was great and so much fun to see the area come to life and I am amazed at the growth since. People say 794 is different since it connects to the Hoan Bridge. The Bridge will still be there and accessible and endless new developments will spring up around the Hoan Bridge and the bridge may even be well used one day due to new developments built on new land opened for development. That new land and its development will create a more vibrant reconnected city and a better tax base. Yet some who complain who live South or West think the sky is falling seem selfish since they are so concerned for their commute. I am sorry this is NOT LA and our commutes are nothing compared to other cities. The Trucks that will idle on city streets if a bridge goes up and other issues are simply NON issues. Funny how we now have trucks on the streets downtown and cars and busses and skate boards and bikes and well they all coexist and the city survives and traffic moves daily. . The 794 removal is a once in a generation chance to repair the damage done by a needless yes NEEDLESS freeway extension. Tear the freeway down put in a boulevard and if it adds a minute or two in someone’s commute so be it and these people can look at all the pretty new buildings that will be built as a result and see all the new people walking the streets and going to stores and hotels and be a part of the life created as a result of losing an eyesore freeway that has closed off a part of the city for to long the 3rd Ward. Opening up the 3rd Ward alone will be epic for our city. We all need to get behind removing the freeway and watch the city continue to grow and prosper. Unlike the Park East that took time to re-develop the city has currently been on a development roll I do not think it will take to much time to see major new developments pop up on new opened land once the decision to take the freeway down happens.

  5. CraigR says:

    Mr. Tea obviously doesn’t use 794 on a daily basis like those that will be severely inconvenienced by any removal option. The Park East never really went anywhere and 794 probably took some of the traffic that used that spur to get to the East Side And making Bay View more isolated will impede its renaissance (it’s probably the neighborhood in the city that’s seen the most unsubsidized private investment). Downtown is not the only part of the city.
    So we have that moronic intersection at Clybourn and Lincoln Memorial which will only get worse if 794 is removed or even if exits or entrances to 794 are removed. Seems to me that the city wanted that configuration to open up land for development for a Johnson Controls headquarters. It still sits vacant several years later.

  6. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Mr Tea The last time I checked there is a HARBOR that allows ocean going vessels to load and unload It seems that those trucks should not be waiting for boats to go up and down the river. It is the HARBOR that is the REASON for 794 Just the piles of salt

    Use your eyes and see.

  7. MrTea says:

    Mr Tea has lived in NYC and in Los Angeles with freeways where you can spend your life in traffic jams and endless commutes so I do in fact know what a commute is and I live in the suburbs not downtown. I do not think CraigR has experienced real congestion and certainly not here in Wisconsin. Try sitting outside Atlanta a few hours in a traffic jam or go hang out in traffic on the 95 in Florida or LA or Chicago that is real Traffic. We have a great easy way of life here and removing 794 will only make that life even better. Also the cost of maintaining 794 is unnecessary when a new tree lined boulevard will do the job very nicely and at a reduced cost and a much improved environment will only add minimal commute times. I think 794 is unnecessary a loser that divides the city and hampers growth and our city is on a roll and growth from the city will help all of southeastern Wisconsin in jobs and revenue just as we saw by removing the Park East. The business from the Bucks alone generated from the Park East removal is fantastic and the removal of 794 will make the Park East re-developments perhaps seem pale compared to new housing and restaurants and other new developments along the 794 corridor and Milwaukee deserves growth not a repaved freeway.
    A great case in point is downtown Seattle they removed the Alaskan way viaduct freeway that was a double decker eyesore along their harbor area and its removal has created a busy boulevard with tons of new development. No one is crying over the removal of that system anymore and Seattle has tons more traffic in general than here. The removal in Seattle of the Alaskan Way freeway was controversial like here and it had people crying about the commutes and worse but now it’s no longer an issue! The same thing will happen here given this once in a generation chance to see the 794 freeway removed and divided areas to be reconnected for tremendous growth potential. The Third Ward is ripe for additional development since the Third Ward is already busting at the seams and consider all the fantastic new land opened up for development and new connections between the Third Ward and downtown! I think we will see many new ways for people to head to the Hoan Bridge and to the southern suburbs all while causing minimal interruptions to anyone’s commute time or lives. This will enrich the entire community lets hope that the powers that be see that there is overwhelming support for the full removal of 794 by the majority of those who have spoken up in support of full removal with only a few outliers from other areas who are not stake holders in the Milwaukee area. Mostly its those in the suburbs who fear having to stop at a traffic light on a new boulevard on the way to the Hoan Bridge. Living in the northern suburbs I would have to find an alternative route. I look forward to that happening and the challenge of breaking up the day seeing new things on the way south or back home.

  8. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Mr Tea Still no mention of the Harbor and Salt piles and Trucks Trucks do not add to the ambiance of what is to be built on the ground. Maybe the design challenge is how to bring the land on the two sides of the elevated road together. I only lived in Milwaukee for 30 years starting in 1969.

    The two bridges 94 and 794 to the “South Side” represented a linkage that could be counted on ie No Boats and bridges up for 5 or 10 minutes only to wait for another.
    As you may remember there was talk of taking down the Daniel Hoan and instead it was repaired and good for another 50 years

    In the analysis what impact will result on 94 north into downtown? That will increase The local streets on the South Side are narrow. Even 27th Street Layton Blvd is not the wide.

    The issue is not oh look what we can do with this land That bridge is an important link in the whole that is a connector.

    Morning thoughts

  9. tommatel says:

    Harbor traffic “trucks” will find an alternate route in short order. They will not choose to use a widened Clybourn when Bay/Becher is less than 2 miles and less than 5 minuets to 94 from the harbor. My guess is any trucks traveling south of the city already use this route. Bay/Becher are not narrow residential streets. They are meant to carry high volumes of traffic efficiently. This isn’t about truck traffic. This is about south shore residents wanting the city to give up extremely valuable land to make it more confident for themselves.

  10. MrTea says:

    No one is suggesting removing the Hoan bridge that ship sailed years ago and the bridge is not only a needed access point to the south side but the bridge is part of Milwaukee identity and with its new LED lights it’s a landmark for the city. We been primarily talking about enhancing the area from approximately from 6th street East to the Hoan but regarding the Salt piles and other unsightly piles of stuff and areas in the Harbor distract that should be rethought as should the master plan for the Harbor area. Housing shops and business is what is needed and we are seeing that develop slowly but with a good master plan for the harbor will serve the city far better than the salt piles.
    We have seen tremendous change since the Park East freeway came down and I believe that change helped propel the city into further positive changes and to think outside the box. Bay View is a great example of a huge turn around. I think the Park East coming down helped propel some of Bay Views growth. Many had given up on Bay View and I personally thought like Brewers hill area and the Third Ward that Bay View would come alive again and it sure has. I think 794 coming down will push further growth from the 794 corridor all the way to Bay View and beyond. I think with good planning and leadership we can achieve not only a vibrant re-connected downtown and Third Ward but a connection to the South side that is equally as engaging and connected along with the Harbor area. The new Cruise ship docking area coming is great and we need more affordable priced housing as well as high end housing and the harbor area is a great area for new housing and that will spur new business. Seeking out new options that will find ways to make everyone happy such as new commuter routes to the South side and safe passage for bicycles, walkers, joggers and perhaps new options like the Hop running to Bay view through the Harbor area and beyond and adding Electric busses that will move people from north to south east to west. We must be open minded to new ways of getting from one place to another. We have a changing world with many complexities and a changing climate. Cars can’t be the only priority and that is the reality. The Harbor has great potential and 794 coming down will help to see the entire area see significant new growth and I believe it would be a terrible mistake not taking advantage of this fantastic opportunity by fully removing 794 and as a result we will see great new opportunities for the entire community.

  11. Thomas Sepllman says:

    The bridges that open and close on St Paul and Michigan and Clybourn and if traffic gets backed up bad enough Wisconsin Those are the bridges that keep BIG trucks sitting and waiting to get back on the freeway. Maybe making noise coming down to street level and then making more noise as the climb the 125 feet to go south on 94. Now it is a gradual climb.

    The Harbor is for commerce not looking at Sort of like the Mil Metropolitan Sewage Plant. That is down there too. Silk stocking do not match a lot of what is there first.

  12. Colin says:

    794 through downtown needs to GO.
    The hoan is staying. Why is this so hard for folks to figure out.

    Look at Park East removal. Look at EVERY freeway removal other cities have gone through, it’s helped every metric.

    I’m usually pro-Highway expansion (where it makes sense) and the removal of this stretch makes the most sense for the most folks.

  13. Thomas Sepllman says:

    And what of the Harbor and the thousands of trucks that link the Harbor to the freeway to the west??? By ignoring the Harbor and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage Plant we can create a piece of land for purposes that are not compatible with other pieces of land that are critical to Milwaukee Oh well

  14. joerod says:

    Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t heard a word from Milwaukee port officials. I wonder what their take is on 794? If the port is expanding that means more trucks and jobs. Shouldn’t the port have a position on this important connection?

  15. joerod says:

    oops. Nevermind. Just saw a story about the Port’s concerns.

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