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The Argument To Nowhere

August 25, 2009

It’s interesting how fast the conversation about the Hoan Bridge devolved into an argument about a non-existent option: tearing down the bridge and not building a replacement.  Sounds silly, right?

No one, including the MMAC, is advocating that there be no link between downtown and the south shore communities served by 794, but from all the hyperbolic invective spread by supporters of the Hoan bridge  suggesting a grand conspiracy to take away their bridge — a county supervisor among them — you’d be forgiven if that’s the alternative you thought was being studied.

Jeramey Janenne at Urban Milwaukee has already done a wonderful job of explaining one particularly good design alternative, as well as the reason why it’s worth having this discussion.

In short, we’re at a point in the lifespan of the Hoan Bridge where we ought to reexamine whether or not the bridge is being used to its expected capacity.  I think it’s clear that it’s not and I believe that it should be replaced with a lower bridge that connects to the lower Third Ward and Bay View in a way that encourages development once the current recession passes.

Here’s a graph comparing the average daily traffic count on the Hoan Bridge (2001-2007), I-94  north of Lapham Avenue (2001-2006)  and I-94 west of the 60th Street (2001-2006):

average_daily_traffic_hoan_bridge,_i-94_(lapham)_and_i-94_(w_of_60th) (1)

What’s surprising is that even during the development renaissance in Bay View and other south shore communities, the average daily traffic never really increased all that much. Construction on the Marquette Interchange obviously played a role in the traffic decline for I-94, but apparently the Hoan wasn’t an option for south side commuters, thus it didn’t experience any tangible increase in traffic. I believe this would suggest that if a lower bridge was constructed the daily traffic would essentially remain the same as it is now.

More importantly, this graph shows just how underutilized the Hoan truly is.  It’s a federal highway that handles less than a third of the traffic of similar highways in the area. In light of this, I would say it’s entirely justified to question why we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a bridge that isn’t serving the greater public in an efficient way. Are we content to spend such a sizable sum on a perpetually underused bridge at a time when we’re also experiencing an overall decrease in vehicle miles traveled in Milwaukee County?

vehicle_miles_traveled_in_milwaukee_county_1998_-_2008 (1)

To anyone seriously considering the issue, the answer is a resounding no.  We’re not content to waste taxpayer’s money or  impede infill development in the city’s core.  We’re also not discussing the closing of one of the south shore communities paths to downtown. It’s perfectly fine to argue in support of the Hoan, but let’s refocus the debate toward actual facts and not overheated rhetoric.

All charts were created with data from WisDOT

  1. August 25, 2009 6:31 am

    Excellent article…. just great.

  2. August 25, 2009 11:01 am

    nice piece! thanks for the stats. i too was amazed at how quickly this became a flame war. not that i’m dissing the hoan, but when i first moved to milwaukee i was introduced to it as “the bridge to nowhere”. anecdotally the 6th st. viaduct has expanded foot and bike traffic to walker’s point – certainly a street-level bridge to bayview would do the same. you’re right though: no one in the argument has ever mentioned marooning the denizens of bayview (except for pro-hoan forces). absurd.

  3. August 25, 2009 11:30 pm

    Thanks guys.

    Dan, that’s a good comparison. The 6th St. viaduct should definitely serve as a model roadway for redesigning the Hoan.

    And yeah, that idea that people actually want to cut off the south side in any way is crazy. Jursik probably adds to the hysteria because it’s the default position of most of her voters, but I think she’s gone a little too far on no facts.

  4. August 26, 2009 10:48 am

    Aside from noting that it’s happening, I’ve stayed out of the Hoan Bridge debate. (Most people can’t really debate to save their lives anyway.) I think it needs resurfacing. But I’m also interested in a pedestrian- and bike-friendly path from Bay View to the Downtown and East Side. I’d like to have something honoring Mayor Hoan, who I think did a great job. But beyond that, my main interest is in keeping people moving in as many ways as possible around Milwaukee. If it can be done less with cars and more with bikes, buses, or rail, all the merrier.

  5. August 27, 2009 10:29 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Jason. Regarding the ped path — I believe they’re working on refurbishing the vacated railroad track that runs north to the Fifth Ward into a trail.

    The problem with the debate is everyone is arguing about something different; most of which are mischaracterizations — a new bridge wouldn’t be so low as to cause delays every time a boat went under, the current bridge isn’t servicing enough traffic to make a 6-lane highway necessary in the first place and the plans for redevelopment are not limited to condos across from MMSD. There’s been a knee-jerk reaction among a lot of people that spending money to study this is bad; yet they fail to consider that we’ll be spending just as much, if not more, to repair the bridge in another 20 years after it’s re-decked.

    The cheaper alternative is to rebuild it lower (with pedestrian access), spur some development in the process to add to the tax rolls and reposition the highway as it extends through the Third Ward so that even more of that land can be repurposed away from parking lots and into liveable/workable uses. If we don’t do this during the window of opportunity we have now, we can add this to the list of mistakes (pension, transit, etc.) we’ll look back upon.

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