Plan to Potentially Remove Downtown Milwaukee’s Interstate Faces Public Scrutiny

The public is weighing in on a suite of options for repairing, replacing, or removing Interstate 794 in downtown Milwaukee.

2 minute read

August 27, 2023, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

An aerial view of Milwaukee’s Third Ward.

Advocates argue that removing I-794 in downtown Milwaukee would reconnect the city’s historic Third Ward. | James / Adobe Stock

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is collecting feedback on a plan to repair, replace, or remove Interstate 794 in downtown Milwaukee during a series of public open houses.

“The open houses presented several conceptual alternatives from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on either repairing the elevated freeway, or replacing it with at-grade streets between roughly the Hoan Bridge's northern approach and a few blocks west of the Milwaukee River,” reports Tom Daykin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The article includes overviews each of the alternatives, including two options for removing the freeway; one plan to replace the freeway in kind; four plans to “rebuild freeway bridges within I-794's current alignment that keeps a wider separation of the eastbound and westbound lanes − while using updated design standards to improve safety”; and two plans to “rebuild freeway bridges with a tightened alignment between eastbound and westbound lanes that uses updated design standards.”

“Freeway removal supporters say the streets can handle the change, which would open several blocks for commercial development − and tear down a barrier between downtown, the lakefront and the Historic Third Ward,” reports Daykin. “Opponents fear removing the freeway would shift tens of thousands of cars daily to surface streets − clogging traffic and lengthening commutes.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Slapczynski is firmly in the opposition camp, writing an opinion piece that suggests the project will solely benefit real estate developers and hurt neighborhoods around the interstate. The column finds fault with supporters’ claims that I-794 worsens pedestrian safety and contributes to the city’s population decline, but doesn’t offer any specific reasoning for those claims.

Supporters of the freeway removal option have published a website called Rethink 794.

The city’s new downtown comprehensive plan supports the freeway removal, as detailed in an article shared by Planetizen in April 2023. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation did in 2022 decide to expand Interstate 94 in Milwaukee despite the opposition of local groups.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023 in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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