The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently reported that the “Hoan Bridge is poised for a 21st century makeover.” Gov. Walker announced that the three-year project to reconstruct the bridge will begin in 2013 will cost “taxpayers” upwards of $350 million, and along with the $7 million repairs going on right now, is intended to keep the bridge upright for the next 40-50 years.
The video above was taken last year when WisDOT had one lane and the shoulder shut down across the bridge to make repairs the deck. It was taken around 7:30 in the morning and shows northbound traffic during the morning peak hour rush. As you can see, even without the shoulder and the third lane, traffic is moving freely.
Outside of waiting for peak oil to clear the roads of motor vehicles, if we are ever going to see a path for bicyclists and pedestrians on the Daniel Webster Hoan Memorial Bridge, it is going to have to happen with this project. Governor Walker is right on target describing the bridge as a “landmark.” Anyone who has made the easy ride over the bridge and witnessed the knows the impressive view of Milwaukee’s lakefront skyline would agree with Gov. Walker that the Hoan ”is certainly a landmark.” Like every other landmark bridge in the country, the Hoan should be open to people on foot and bicycle.
The image above is from the 2002 study and shows the consultant’s proposed cross section for a barrier separated bike and pedestrian path over the Hoan. While 13ft would be nice, it is really not necessary. The bike and ped path could be narrowed to 10ft or even 8ft, which would provide for a full width break down shoulder on both sides of the motor vehicle travel lanes.
The history and politics behind this fossil fuel landmark are long and complicated. Suffice it to say that federal money was set aside to fund a bike path over the Hoan Bridge. After that money was earmarked, County and state politics shifted. Both County Executive Ament and (then) Walker opposed the path on the bridge, as did WisDOT officials. The City of Milwaukee, the County Board, most area bicyclists and many businesses supported the path. In order to placate the demand for a path, the WisDOT hired a private consultant to evaluate alternatives to a path on the bridge.
In 2002, after 5-year-long study by URS/Bloom Consultants, officials from Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation ironically held a press conference at the north end of the Hoan Bridge and announced that their preferred alternative to a bike and pedestrian path over the Hoan Bridge was a route mostly on surface streets. They announced this on-street route in the face of overwhelming public and private support for a path on the bridge and despite the fact that their were millions of dollars set aside to pay for the project.
After some discussion, the City of Milwaukee agreed to be the local sponsor and implement the WisDOT’s preferred on-street Bay View to Downtown bicycle route. Construction on that route will begin later this summer. At the same time, the City of Milwaukee made clear it’s support for a path over the bridge at some time in the future. In a meeting with City of Milwaukee DPW senior staff and members of the WisDOT Hoan Bridge project team, the WisDOT officials agreed to reconsider a path over the bridge as part of any future scoping for the redecking or reconstruction of the Hoan.
That pretty much brings us to where we are today. The City of Milwaukee DPW staff intends to have further conversations with WisDOT staff to discuss the possibility that bike and ped accommodations be considered as part of the initial design scoping process. In order to get any real consideration, a bike path on the Hoan would need very strong public, private and political support.
At the next weeks meeting at the Riverwest Public House, I would like to discuss how member of 52 might help lead the grass roots organizational efforts to champion a path on the Hoan. I would also hope that other groups like MB3, the Bicycle Federation of WI, the Bay View Business Association along with the local bike clubs and teams would join in the call for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations be included with the $350 reconstruction project.
The 2002 estimate to retrofit a bike path on the bridge was $3.5 million, but that was to retrofit the path. So even though the costs have increased since then, building the path as part of a much larger construction project should save quite a bit of money. It is very possible that the separated path could still be built for around 1% of the total project cost. In the transportation funding world, that is chicken feed.
There are lots of arguments for the path and lots of answers for arguments against the path. I will highlight a few of those issues in a later posts on Over the Bars, but until then you can find most frequently asked question answered in-depth at the Bike and Walk the Hoan website here.
I ran into Jason and Kerry voting this morning and he asked me what he could do to get help support a bike path over the bridge. I suggested that he needed to wait until the City of Milwaukee DPW staff meet with WisDOT agency staff to discuss it before any real action can be taken, but it never hurts to contact the elected officials who represent our interestes and tell them it is important to make sure Milwaukee’s greatest transportation landmark with its world class view is opened to people on foot and on bike.
With Chris Abele as our new Milwaukee County executive (YEAH!) I expect we have supportive leadership at the County. So call or email your incumbent and newly elected officials and tell them you want 1% to walk and bike the Hoan.