MILWAUKEE — A meeting held at Marquette University Monday explored the future of I-794, which runs through downtown Milwaukee from the Marquette Interchange to the lakefront.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said the aging bridges need extensive repair in the coming years; there has been significant discussion from transportation advocacy groups and the City of Milwaukee about the potential of tearing down the highway and creating a boulevard-style roadway in its place.
Monday’s meeting drew a variety of people interested in learning more about the potential reconstruction, including business leaders and city government officials.
Peter Park was among those who spoke at the meeting.
While he now works in Denver, Park served as Milwaukee’s City Development Director in the 1990s and 2000s. Park oversaw the demolition of the former Park East Freeway in 2003, which once ran through downtown.
Park said, looking back over the last 20 year at the developments to the West Side of downtown, he thinks making changes to I-794 would be worthwhile.
“If I think back 20 years ago, it was a totally different kind of conversation. It was, 'Who has done this?' 'How could you possibly do that?' I would say this is the opportunity to remind everyone in Milwaukee that Milwaukee has done this. Other cities around the country, other cities around the world look to Milwaukee as an example of what they can do,” said Park
Carl Glasemeyer was among those attending the meeting. Glasemeyer works for 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, an advocacy group in favor of converting I-794 into a boulevard style roadway. Glasemeyer said he feels it's exciting to see people rethinking highways and transportation.
“There are plenty of opportunities in how we imagine aging pieces of infrastructure. It is a long way to go in the future and we are going to have to come up with a collective vision to figure out what is actually best for community, but it's really encouraging to see we can have these conversations,” said Glasemeyer.
Making significant changes to I-794 doesn’t come without concerns. Many of those concerns are related to traffic issues and the impact a major construction project would have on downtown and nearby neighborhoods.
Jim Plaisted is executive director of the Historic Third Ward Association.
He said he worries about the impact it could have on the growing neighborhood.
“We are lobbying hard with the City of Milwaukee to narrow Water Street, to bring out the sidewalks, not to paint lines, not plastic pylons, but bring out the sidewalks and make Water Street similar to Broadway in Milwaukee. That could be next to impossible in a tear-down situation and the traffic that Water Street may be asked to handle,” Plaisted said during a panel discussion.
At this point it is unclear when a decision will be made on the future of I-794. Right now, discussoins are only related to the highway portion that runs through downtown, leaving the Hoan Bridge and Lake Parkway to the south in tact.