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Officials hone their opposition to bridge’s removal

Hoan is too important to region, they argue

Sept. 11, 2008

South Shore officials have joined in opposing a possible state study that would consider tearing down the high-profile Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials are reportedly considering whether rebuilding the freeway closer to ground level would be less costly than maintaining the bridge, and whether such a design would open up lakefront land for redevelopment.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik has drafted a letter — signed by Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue, St. Francis Mayor Al Richards and South Milwaukee Mayor Thomas Zepecki — to DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi against the destruction of the bridge.

“The state review of tearing down the Hoan Bridge is, simply put, a bad idea,” the letter says. “Our communities are just now beginning to benefit from this link (the Lake Park Freeway) to downtown and the greater Milwaukee community. The south side of Milwaukee County is now the fastest developing part of the county thanks in large part to better transportation.”

Revealing the state’s plans

News that DOT officials were looking into the possibility of tearing down the bridge, rebuilding most of the Interstate 794 at street level and building smaller lift bridges over the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic rivers to connect the Lake Park Freeway to downtown was disclosed by The Business Journal on Aug. 22.

After reading the article, McCue said he immediately called Busalacchi’s office to voice his disapproval.

“I think it is an idea that doesn’t need to be studied any further,” he said during a Sept. 2 meeting.

He was unable to reach Busalacchi directly, but talked to a DOT representative, who claimed the discussions were “just internal conversation,” McCue said.

But according to The Business Journal, the plans have been shared with community leaders.

“So today I filed an open records request on Secretary Busalacchi as well as two other officials from the DOT because I want to see every single plan that they have made or discussed or conversations that they have had,” he said. “I think it’s important for the economic development of the city of Cudahy to have the Hoan Bridge there.”

Routing a concern

First District Alderman Joseph Mikolajczak said the Hoan Bridge provides a vital transportation link for South Shore residents to downtown Milwaukee.

“I know many people who go to work taking the Hoan Bridge,” he said. “It’s very convenient.”

City officials in neighboring communities are also agitated by the thought of tearing down the bridge.

The St. Francis Common Council has asked City Attorney Michele Ford to prepare a resolution spelling out the city’s opposition to the bridge’s removal.

“Since the completion of the Lake Park Freeway, this bridge has been a vital route, allowing St. Francis citizens to commute into Milwaukee for both work and recreation,” said 2nd District Alderman Ted Jarosh. “I believe the plan to take it down is both shortsighted and fiscally irresponsible.”

Zepecki said the destruction of Hoan Bridge “doesn’t make sense” because it would jeopardize a vital traffic link from downtown Milwaukee to the South Shore.

McCue agrees that the plans are impractical.

“It makes absolutely no sense to me that they would spend millions of dollars to extend (Interstate) 794 to Edgerton Avenue with the end goal in mind to tear down the Hoan Bridge,” he said. “It’s wasteful spending. I question where the strategic planning is when it comes to the Lake Park Freeway.”

McCue said the Marquette Interchange was constructed to make it easier for drivers living outside of Milwaukee County to reach downtown.

“And yet they can’t spend the money on people that live in Milwaukee County to keep the convenience that we have,” McCue said. “I’m opposed to any option that would significantly increase the drive time of the residents of southeast Wisconsin to get to downtown Milwaukee.”

Business reaction

Wixon President Peter Gottsacker said he is in favor of keeping the bridge and making repairs when necessary. He said the bridge provides an easy commute for employees traveling to and from the north and west of the company, which is based in St. Francis.

“Truckingwise, it doesn’t have a big impact,” he said.

Betty Kujawa, executive assistant to the president at Roadrunner Dawes Freight Systems, reiterated the message. She said truck drivers primarily use alternative routes or Interstate 94, so the destruction of the bridge would not have a significant impact on the company. Several employees do use the bridge to get to and from work, which could make their journeys less convenient, she said.

Jane Schilz, proprietor of Sheridan’s and Sheridan House, said about a third of her employees use the bridge to travel back and forth to work.

She said many of her customers are not local and travel from various parts of the region. But because the business is less than a year old, she is not exactly sure where most of her patrons travel from or whether it will impact the company’s vendors.

“But I think it would definitely impact our business,” she said.

Unlikely scenario

Richards said he doubts DOT discussions to dismantle the bridge will ever materialize, he said.

“It’s probably never going to happen,” he said, adding final plans would likely not surface for another eight to 10 years. “But it’s probably more like 2020,” Richards said.

Chantel Balzell can be reached at (262) 446-6602.

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