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Work on Milwaukee's Lakefront Redesign to Continue Through 2018

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Wisconsin DOT
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The Lakefront Gateway Project includes a major redesign of freeways, ramps and local roads

It will be at least three more years of orange barrels and detour signs in downtown Milwaukee, as the city, county and state work to make the area more accessible and attractive.

Officials will offer details about future phases if the Lakefront Gateway Project at a meeting Tuesday evening at O’Donnell Park.

Milwaukee's development commissioner Rocky Marcoux says the city has a world-class lakefront, but until now, it’s looked more like a loading dock.

“When you look at how the freeway ramps came and intersected at Lincoln Memorial Drive, the lack of landscaping, lack of the use of opportunities that presented themselves…we needed to fix all that,” he says.

The plan to fix all that includes major freeway reconstruction, as many drivers have been experiencing in recent months.

“So we’re in what’s called the second stage of the Hoan Bride 794 freeway construction,” says Carolyn Gellings, Wisconsin DOT project manager. “The work that’s going on right now has a timeline to end in December of 2015, this year. But then the gateway project picks up and it’s in that same area.”

The DOT’s next phase is to move 794’s downtown ramps farther south.

Also in 2016, the city will start work on the local roads nearby. For example, it’ll extend Lincoln Memorial Drive farther south into the Third Ward.

The city’s Rocky Marcoux touts a couple of Gateway projects that aren’t exactly settled. One is the proposed Couture, a 44-story apartment tower that developers want to build at the site of the Downtown Transit Center.

Opponents have sued, arguing the land is protected because it stands on the original bed of Lake Michigan.

Marcoux says new streetcars will service the area, though Milwaukee is still waiting for federal grants for that project. Finally, he says four teams of architects are competing to design a new public plaza near the museums and festival grounds.

“Our hope is to come up with a plan that the public can get really excited about, that will allow us to move forward with a beautiful bridge across Lincoln Memorial Drive that will come from the Couture, and also talk about what will it take to really energize and make that place a special place for our residents and anyone coming down to the lakefront,” Marcoux says.

“The Lakefront Gateway? I haven’t seen that visualized yet,” says UWM architecture professor Mark Keane. He consults for Preserve Our Parks, the group that sued over the Couture project.

Keane is critical of the lakefront redevelopment because he says there’s been no master planning process, but rather a piecemeal approach by different stakeholders.

“You know, the county and the city are stressed for tax dollars, so they’re going to make decisions that probably shouldn’t be made and it just seems like there’s nobody really with that singular powerful vision that’s going to raise our standard,” Keane says.

Keane says leaders are too eager to sell public land for private development, when they should be considering long-term goals for the lakefront, including how the public will access and use it.

He also views the project as too transit-focused, with roads taking precedence over park land and pedestrians.

“I think we’re missing a chance,” he says.

Despite differing viewpoints, planners are moving forward. The entire $34 million Gateway project is expected to be completed in 2018.

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