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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Revisioning Highway 175 for good of neighborhood, not speeding cars in the heart of Milwaukee

Wisconsin Highway 175
Chuck Quirmbach
A study is underway to reexamine Wisconsin Highway 175 between Wisconsin and Lisbon avenues in Milwaukee.

A short spur of freeway that has jutted into the heart of Milwaukee for decades might, with time, be transformed.

City and county officials as well as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation are reevaluating Wisconsin Highway 175, between West Wisconsin and Lisbon avenues, to become more friendly to people than heavy traffic.

Right now, stand in Washington Park north of American Family Field and gaze west at WIS-175; all you see is concrete pavement and vehicles rocketing across it.

It was in Washington Park Wednesday afternoon that DOT Secretary Craig Thompson announced his agency is allocating $2-$3 million to evaluate how best to calm and transform the mile-and-a-half stretch.

“[To] make sure we take in all the input from the community, that we’re listening, that we can do it in a way that hopefully reconnecting communities that have been divided in the the past, that allows people with all different modes to people to traverse it in the ways they choose to do that,” Thompson said.

Constructed in the 1960s, the freeway spur removed the park’s western edge, demolished blocks of homes and pulled neighborhoods apart.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said it’s time to start righting some of those wrongs, while making sure improvements benefit residents. “Working with the mayor, this is a partnership, we want to make sure everybody who lives in the neighborhood can continue to stay in this neighborhood. … It’s extremely important that we do everything that we can that doesn’t price people out,” he said.

Milwaukee mayor Cavalier Johnson says WIS 175 spur reconstruction could unlock the neighborhood.
Milwaukee Riverkeeper
Milwaukee mayor Cavalier Johnson says WIS 175 spur reconstruction provides an opportunity to unlock the corridor.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson called the project an opportunity to unlock the corridor. “When we have reconstruction in this area, it will unlock economic value, commercial value and it will reconnect neighborhoods, providing opportunities for multimodal transportation, not just for cars,” he said.

Johnson’s message drew applause from people who had assembled on the windy highpoint in the park, including Anna Bailliekova.

Advocates of calming both the WIS 175 spur and of curbing slated expansion of nearby I-94 East-West Corridor at Wednesday's press event in Washington Park. Its western edge was part of what was lost with the spur's construction in the 1960s.
Susan Bence
Advocates of calming both the WIS-175 spur and of curbing slated expansion of nearby I-94 East-West Corridor at Wednesday's press event in Washington Park.

She pedaled three miles from the Cooper Park neighborhood where she lives.

Bailliekova liked the fact that each speaker said public opinion will play a key role in the corridor’s future. “They certainly indicated it, but in some ways it’s up to us to make our voices heard. We all need to be in the ears of our county supervisors, of our aldermen, of the Department of Transportation; they need to hear from us. It’s on all of us to advocate for this,” she said.

Officials hope a special pot of money allocated within the bipartisan infrastructure law to reconnect communities divided by transportation infrastructure will fuel construction of whatever design rises to the top.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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