The future of Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge is at hand. A once-in-a-half-century decision will need to be made soon: Should the bridge be repaired and left as is, or should it be replaced with a street-level thoroughfare?
That question was bandied about by a panel at a Milwaukee Press Club Newsmaker Luncheon recently.
Peter Beitzel, vice president at the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), and state Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) both called for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a full study, assessing all of the options for the Hoan Bridge.
"We need to do this right. I want good information. I think it's key to the Milwaukee region," Stone said. "I'm going to argue we need a full study."
However, if the DOT is going to authorize such a study on the Hoan, it best do so soon, Beitzel said.
Proponents of replacing the bridge say a street-level thoroughfare would open hundreds of acres of land for redevelopment along the bridge's lakeside corridor. Beitzel said the only way the replacement concept moves forward is if someone champions that cause, and that someone would likely need to be the mayor of Milwaukee, he said.
Milwaukee County Supervisor Pat Jursik, who represents the south side of the county, is leading the fight to save the Hoan as is.
Jursik cited several reasons the Hoan must be retained in its current form:
- Residents on the south side need a direct, efficient traffic link to downtown jobs and entertainment.
- The Port of Milwaukee needs a clean, unimpeded route for ships.
- The Hoan provides a direct link for downtown residents and visitors to General Mitchell International Airport.
- A reduction in traffic capacity on the Hoan would force more traffic onto north/south Interstate 94.
- Commuters on the south side use the Hoan as a route to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
- The Hoan offers an inviting, impressive first view of downtown Milwaukee for first-time visitors from the airport or the Lake Express High-Speed Ferry.
- Properly marketed, the bridge could become an icon of the city's skyline (check out how OnMilwaukee.com makes great use of it).
Indeed, the image of traffic backed up for miles while a street-level drawbridge is raised or lowered every time a ship passes through the Port of Milwaukee was not a welcome vision for anyone on the Newsmaker panel, including Eric Reinelt, director of the port.
Stone said the region, the state and the country must rise above petty partisan political discourse and be willing to consider other viewpoints on important issues.
Still, there was something missing from the Newsmaker Luncheon. Oh yeah, now I remember. It was the DOT.
Neither DOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi or executive assistant Chris Klein could attend the event. Klein also said they could not send anyone else from their agency to represent the DOT.
An agency with hundreds of employees and a total bi-annual budget of $5.9 billion, and there are only two people capable of representing the DOT at a public forum?
Perhaps their response (or lack thereof) is an indication that the future of the Hoan is not a priority right now in Madison.
According to the panelists who did attend, a decision is needed soon, because the bridge is in dire need of repairs, if not replacement. The Hoan is on the clock.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.