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Hoan/I-794 Project to Pave Way for Lakefront Roadway Redesign

Wisconsin Department of Transportation

If you use the Hoan Bridge, you’ll soon see the first signs of construction: orange barrels.

A major project to rehab the bridge is about to begin. It’s the start of years of work, that will transform roadways along Milwaukee’s lakefront.

The first project has two components: the re-decking of the Hoan Bridge, that connects downtown and Bay View, and a revamp of the freeway lanes that join up with the Hoan downtown.

Carolyn Gellings is project manager:

“Starting at the Milwaukee River, where the Marquette Interchange project left off, we will be reconstructing the structures of I-794 between the river and Milwaukee St. And we will also be completely reconstructing the Jackson and Van Buren ramps.”

Gellings says in coming weeks, drivers will notice lane and shoulder closures, and a couple ramp closures, as workers do prep work for the project. The big changes are about a month away.

Here’s the timetable: in December, I-794’s eastbound lanes will close for construction. So will the Hoan’s southbound lanes. The remaining lanes will accommodate two-way traffic, for one year.

Then, phase two begins, with the newly minted lanes taking on the two-way traffic, while the rest of the old roadway is replaced or repaired. That phase also is expected to take a year.

Gellings says drivers should expect delays during the project. But she says the state Department of Transportation will do what it can to keep traffic moving, including during rush hour on the Hoan Bridge:

“We are using a movable barrier to keep two lanes in the peak direction. So there’ll be two lanes headed northbound in the morning, and then there’ll be two lanes headed southbound in the evening, and then a single lane in the opposite direction.”

The project will affect people who frequent the lakefront, downtown and the Third Ward, the neighborhood that’s immediately south of downtown. I-794 runs along its northern border. It could get crowded, as drivers crisscross city streets to avoid freeway construction. And some of the Third Ward’s parking spaces will vanish, for a time. That’s because they’re directly under the lanes of I-794 that will be rebuilt.

Credit Ann-Elise Henzl
These lanes of I-794 will be rebuilt over the course of the project

“All of the parking lots that are currently under the freeway are going to be affected, either the first year or the second year or both,” says Ron San Felippo, chair of the Third Ward’s business improvement district, Historic Third Ward. It’s been helping the neighborhood prepare for the impact.

“Historic Third Ward has bought three shuttle buses. We’re going into the bus business,” San Felippo says.

San Felippo says some people who work in the Third Ward will have their parking spaces reassigned to spaces a few blocks away. The buses will take them to and from work. He says the move will keep the remaining parking spaces open for shoppers and diners, including those who visit the Milwaukee Public Market.

“We want to make sure that people understand that they’re not going to have any problem coming down to the market, coming to any of the other businesses,” San Felippo says.

San Felippo says the Third Ward is bracing itself for several years of changing traffic patterns and construction, beyond the two years slated for the I-794 and Hoan Bridge project. As soon as it’s over, work will begin on the Lakefront Gateway, the project that will extend Lincoln Memorial Dr. from Michigan into the Third Ward.

The Lakefront Gateway will revamp access between the lakefront and Third Ward

The Lakefront Gateway is expected to improve access to the neighborhood, and generate construction – in space that will have been freed up, by the redesign of the freeway ramps. Business owners are psyching themselves up to cope with the commotion. Carrie Arrouet owns Lela, a women’s boutique on Broadway.

“We know it’s going to be a little bit uncomfortable, a little dusty, a little noisy, but in the end it’s going to be super,” Arrouet says.

Arrouet says she does not believe the disruption will keep away customers.

“The city has done a great job, our neighborhood association has done a great job, of really communicating effectively what’s going to happen during this project, alternative routes and good signage, and it’s not that difficult – we all can follow detour signs,” Arrouet says.

That attitude is shared by the alderman who represents both the Third Ward and downtown. Robert Bauman says the Third Ward is an attractive destination, and people will seek out ways to get there.

"Everybody is obsessed with congestion, and to some extent congestion’s a natural outgrowth of activity, of life, of people wanting to be in a certain place. So congestion in and of itself is not a huge concern of mine,” Bauman says.

Bauman says his constituents don’t seem overly concerned about the back-to-back projects, either. He says they’re excited by the development that the Lakefront Gateway construction will spur. As for the Hoan Bridge and I-794 work? Bauman says they’re not excited – but they understand the need for highway maintenance.

Ann-Elise Henzl became News Director in September 2017.
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