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'Necessary' High Rise Bridge Construction in Milwaukee Causes Delays

Teran Powell
The southbound I-43 ramp is closed near Marquette University's campus.

The downtown freeway is in the middle of a makeover. Part of the High Rise Bridge is getting a concrete overlay, with construction affecting traffic within the Marquette Interchange.

There are long-term closures of a number of lanes and freeway ramps. To many drivers, work on the freeway has become a nuisance -- and feels like it's never-ending, but some experts on highway construction say the bridge is right on schedule.

Since the late 1980s, parts of Milwaukee’s High Rise Bridge have seen some form of reconstruction. About a decade ago, during the rebuilding of the Marquette Interchange, the concrete deck of the High Rise Bridge was widened.

Then 5 years ago the southern portion of the bridge received a concrete overlay. Now the same maintenance work is being done on the northern portion. It’s a planned project designed to extend the lifespan of the structure.

That’s according to Dan Sellers, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Southeast region.

He acknowledges the project's impact on tens of thousands of drivers each day, but he says the DOT has taken steps to help commuters and nearby businesses as much as possible.

“Since the bridge kind of ties into the Marquette Interchange, some long-term ramp closures are needed, however I guess the good news is that the area is still very operational. I think we have a good plan in place to keep that traffic moving. And you know with it being downtown there’s a lot of good alternate routes nearby,” Sellers says.

The Hoan Bridge is one of those alternate routes.

One business that’s seen its share of construction projects from a street and freeway level is the Milwaukee Public Market. A few years ago construction on the 794 freeway was right over the market, and in recent months, workers have been laying tracks for the streetcar, tearing up roads in the process.

Credit Jenn Turner, flickr
The Milwaukee Public Market with 794 in the background.

Paul Schwartz is the market's executive director.

"We'd spent about a year with the construction teams talking about the closure and the planning for the work schedule so we knew how to communicate to the customer base, how to communicate with our staff, our vendors, delivery drivers and make suggestions to minimize the impact and I think that planning has been part of the success that the construction projects had," he explains.

Schwartz says those conversations happened when the streetcar construction was set to begin, and since the High Rise Bridge construction started last week, the market hasn’t seen any dip in business.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee World Festival, the organization that puts on Summerfest and maintains the Summerfest grounds, says it's not sure yet how construction will affect its patrons.

However, many drivers, like Tiffany Tresemer, are complaining about the impact they're feeling from the High Rise Bridge work. Tresemer’s usual hour-long commute has been extended by about 20 minutes. 

She says even the stop for gas adds another 15 minutes to her drive, because she has to take so many detours on surface streets to get to the gas station.

“I’m not really from the area so I don’t know the good back routes a lot of the time so I’m just mostly stuck on the freeway with nothing really to do about it. It’s a pain, it has to get done, but it’s not the greatest,” Tresemer says.

Kevin Muhs says it might seem like there’s always construction happening on freeways in Milwaukee County, but the work is necessary. He's deputy director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

He says inspectors examine roadways to decide the maintenance that should be performed. “For structures like the High Rise Bridge, there’s inspections that happen regularly to determine if it’s structurally sound, and then also the pavement surface on top of the bridge is also considered when they’re looking at the timing for reconstruction.”

Muhs says there is a typical lifespan of roadway pavement, but real world conditions can alter it.

The High Rise concrete overlay project began this month and is set to be completed in the fall. The Department of Transportation has information on its website for people to stay updated on the project.

Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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