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794 could see major changes as WisDOT weighs preliminary redesign plans

794 in Milwaukee, facing west.
Joy Powers
794 in Milwaukee facing west.

794 is likely to see some major changes in the next few years. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) released several different proposals for what these changes could look like, and even though construction is years away, these plans are already being hotly debated.

Each plan varies in how it would redesign the aging roads, but there are two main categories: replacement or removal. The replacement options are designs that redesign the road while maintaining an elevated freeway system, which removal options would bring the road down to grade level as it enters downtown Milwaukee.

"It’s a question of land use, it’s a question of connectivity, but it’s also a question of safe and efficient movement of people and goods. That’s where the tradeoff really is here, between making some improvements to the existing freeway or taking it down to grade," says Mark Gottlieb, the associate director for the Institute for Physical Infrastructure and Transportation at UW-Milwaukee.

This map shows the part of 794 that will be redesigned.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation
This map shows the part of 794 that will be redesigned.

Removing the elevated freeway would allow for many new development opportunities in the heart of Milwaukee, but critics fear it could also lead to more congestion. The designs for removing the elevated freeway also include revamping nearby surface streets, like Clybourn, where some traffic would be diverted.

Elevated freeway systems have become increasingly unpopular in city centers because of how they divide neighborhoods and create spaces that are difficult to use. The noise and pollution caused by the freeways make the underpass areas undesirable for most activities and although Milwaukee has worked hard to bridge these divides, most of these spaces are only used as parking, if they're used at all.

Gottlieb is quick to note that WisDOT is still in the early stages of this planning and a lot could change before the department picks its preferred plan and there is still time for residents to have share their opinions.

"Right now they are in the phase that's referred to as alternative development and analysis, so they're sifting and winnowing some of the alternatives, which then will lead into an environmental analysis process that will be either an environmental assessment or impact statement; that will lead into a preferred alternative sometime probably next summer or next fall and construction... starting no earlier than 2026," says Gottlieb.


Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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