Oak Leaf Trail to Interurban update

The members of the Milwaukee County Trails Council met last week Thursday, April 28th. The Trails Council was formed at the behest of Sue Black, Director of Milwaukee County Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Culture, to discuss the maintenance and development of Milwaukee County trails. The members consist of citizen volunteers and staff from various agencies that have interests in natural areas and trails, such as the Milwaukee Metro Mountain Bikers, the Milwaukee River Greenway Coalition, the Rolling Dice Snowmobile Association, the National Park Service, County Supervisor Borkowski and yours truly.  

Due to the Milwaukee County Parks budget and staff cuts over the years, the Council has met somewhat infrequently until recently, but the recent meetings have been quite productive despite how far the Parks staff has been stretched.  The meetings are run by Ramsey Radakovich, the newish Deputy Regional Manager for the Parks Dept., last 2-3 hours and have a wide-ranging agenda.  During our last meeting, Ramsey gave an update on the status of the Oak Leaf Trail extension from Estabrook Park to the Village of Brown Deer Trail/Ozaukee Interurban Trail.

Right click on the image to open a larger map in a new window.

The project map to the left is a bit out of date but usefule as it breaks up the trail into phases.  I have some more accurate information. 

The section listed as “Phase 1” from Brown Deer Park to AC Hanson Park is already out to bid and the Parks Dept. hopes to have that constructed later this summer.

Phase 2 – This is a short segment to be done by the City of Glendale.  They have had a few issues to resolve regarding ROW acquisition, but that project should move forward later in 2011 as well.

Phase 3 – The design is done for this section within the We Energies powerline corridor from Mill Road to Bradley Road, and construction is proposed for 2012.

Phase 4 – From a Milwaukee perspective, this is the most important section and unfortunately the most complicated. The Parks Dept. has been trying to get their hands on this land for many years without success. Anyone who has ridden the Oak Leaf to the point where it dead ends along Wilson, knows there has not been a train on those tracks for decades.  Unfortunately, it was only recently that the railroad filed to formally abandon the tracks, and until that abandonment procedure was filed and approved in Washington, it didn’t matter if there were 6 inch-caliper trees growing between the tracks, it was listed as an active rail line and nothing could be done to acquire the land or put a trail on it.

Once the tracks were formally abandoned, the County could focus on the acquisition of the corridor and write for a grants to purchase the land and build the trail. Last August the Wisconsin DOT notified the Parks Dept. that a CMAQ grant proposal the County had written for the acquisition had been approved. While this was great news, for a number of reasons, including all the ARRA projects that had to be processed short deadlines, the project agreements, did not come until about a week ago.  Municipalities are not permitted to begin any work on grant funded projects until they have project agreements. 

Now with that document in hand, the Parks Dept. is able to enter negotiations to purchase the old Chicago Pacific railroad corridor. Real estate negotiations involving the use of federal funds are complicated, as are any negotiations with railroad companies, so it’s reasonable to assume that acquisition of the corridor will take a while.  Once completed, the Parks Dept. can begin to design and construct the trail using a different Transportation Enhancement grant.

While there is no official timeline for Phase 4, based on my experience working at the speed of government, I would guess this last and important phase of the Oak Leaf Trail connection to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail will not be done before 2013.  Given the importance of the connection, it will be worth the wait, and the good people at the Parks Dept. deserve a pat on the back for their perseverance of the last 10 or 11 years of attempting to move the project forward.


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
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12 Responses to Oak Leaf Trail to Interurban update

  1. Dave Reid says:

    I’m actually the happiest about phase 1 as then I won’t have to ride that crazy section of Green Bay near downtown Brown Deer… But I can’t wait for all of this to be done, we’re actually riding it up to Cedarburg most weekends now.

  2. Dave Steele says:

    Phase 1 alone will make a big difference for me. I live on the West Side of the city, and frequently ride up to Port Washington via the Interurban. It’s a great ride, except for the netherworld between Brown Deer Park and the trailhead on Brown Deer Road. I have numerous good ways to get to Brown Deer Park (Mill Road to Range Line is a preferred route), but I have yet to find a good route to the Interurban that doesn’t include mixing it up in the spaghetti bowl that is Green Bay Road between the Park and Brown Deer Road. This new connection will make getting to the Interurban far more enjoyable.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Steele Agreed that “netherworld” really is the part that irks me the most… I’ve got a route basically that I cross Good Hope ride through a little subdivision and then jump on Green Bay, which is ok though I’ll be very happy about Phase II as that isn’t my fav either, but when we make that corner and you think you’ve just biked on to the Interstate I’ll be very happy that’s gone.. Of course it will be simply amazing when you can take the trail from downtown Milwaukee all the way up the Interurban, and I can’t wait! And I’ll use it regularly.

  4. Barry Stuart says:

    I’ll be glad that I’ll finally be able to ride the Oak Leaf Trail directly to the Interurban Trail. I’ve always advocated connectivity and enabling us bicyclists to travel as long as we please. As far as I’m concerned, a bicycle is a form of transportation.

  5. AJ Choren says:

    It’s absolutely great to see this moving forward, even if it is going to (understandably) take the Parks Department some time to sort out Phase 4. I ride the Oak Leaf Trail to and from work all year, from Shorewood to downtown. This winter I saw a lot quite a few bicycle tire tracks in the snow. The trail is becoming busier as the weather warms and more people bike to work. Thanks for filling us in on these details, Dave!

  6. Bruce Thompson says:

    I agree with the comments about Phase I. There is a very tricky left turn going between Green Bay and the old village of Brown Deer. And it is dangerous in both directions.

    For some reason, all three possible routes between Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties get messy around the county line. The others are the route along Lake Drive between Fairy Chasm and Zedler, and River Road which dead ends at Mequon Rd which has no shoulders.

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  9. Fuzzy says:

    Great to hear about this continuing to move forward! Agreed about the current OLT-to-Interurban connectivity cluster, though wouldn’t it be better (though not particularly shorter) to stay on the OLT onto Bradley Rd, then north on 51st to Glenbrook, 60th north to County Line and east to the Interurban? I’ve done some similar long-routing on my par-commute, though most recently it seemed to work better following the most direct route, which included a major state highway/”expressway”…

    Also, one minor correction to the “Phase 4” description, the railroad that most recently owned the right-of-way is the Union Pacific (yep, same one that built west from Omaha that you learned about in history in school), but the previous owner was the Chicago & North Western (CNW).

  10. BD says:

    Phase one in my Brown Deer is under construction. Curb work looks complete at several intersections, gravel base visible from Brown Deer Road, Green Bay/Teutonia, and Bradley Road near Brown Deer Park… guessing it goes the whole way, just didn’t ride the trail with the road bike to check.

  11. BD says:

    Phase 1 completed in the fall in my Brown Deer, and it’s great.
    Any update on phases 2 or 3? Per this year-old post, phase 3 was planned/hoped for this summer, but I can’t find an update anywhere.
    (Phase 2 might be done for all I know, but decidedly less useful until connected with Phase 3)

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