The times in the Brew City, they are a-changin'. Whether you're seeing the new "ASQ" sign on top of the former Ivory Tusk Building downtown, driving down the newly-reconstructed Lincoln Memorial Drive along the lake or taking in a ball game at the new jewel we call Miller Park, new and different things are popping up all over town.
Two projects we've heard about a lot in the past few years are part of the $241 million transportation package that helped to fund the downtown rubber-tired trolley, repave portions of I-94 and US Highway 45, and begin reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange. We're talking about the destruction of the Park East freeway and the new 6th Street viaduct.
The 6th Street viaduct
The 6th Street viaduct has been around since 1906 and it shows. The crumbling concrete, rusting support beams and embedded rail tracks that used to carry the North Shore Line trains will be gone; in its place, a fancy new viaduct will descend into the Menomonee Valley and intersect with Canal Street before lifting again on the opposite side. Actually, it will be two cable-stayed bridges and two bascule bridges (the kind where two sides of the bridge "lift and separate" perpendicular to the riverbank, like the one that crosses the Milwaukee River at State Street).
Ground was officially broken on Oct. 27 for the $50 million project. After some brief fanfare, information about the 6th Street viaduct only popped up when a segment of the Hoan Bridge failed on Dec. 13. News reports suggested that traffic re-routed from the Hoan could cause a delay in the 6th Street plan. So what has happened since, now that the Hoan is re-opened?
Well, work is shifting into high gear. All traffic on 6th Street across the Menomonee Valley will be closed on May 1 while the old structure is demolished and the new viaduct gets constructed. Completion of the project is scheduled for August 2002.
The new viaduct will be 80 ft. wide and 3,000 ft. long with four driving lanes, sidewalks and a bicycle lane.
What you can see from I-794 already is the alignment of the new bridge being built just slightly west. The pylons of the new cable-stayed bridges, clearly visible now, will rise 145 feet and host cables that support the road deck as it drops gradually towards Canal Street from either side. In the valley, bridge piers are being constructed for two bascule bridges spanning the Menomonee River and the South Menomonee Canal.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has a great site about the project, complete with history, pictures, and detour information. It may be accessed at http://www.dot.state.wi.us/dtd/hdist2/sv-index.htm.
The Park East Freeway Project
Part of a planned freeway that was to run from the Hoan Bridge and the along Lakefront, across downtown and northwest to the existing Highway 145 freeway that runs from 68th and Hampton, the existing spur of the Park East freeway opened in 1972. The only segment that was completed runs from Fond du Lac Avenue at Walnut Street to Jefferson Street in East Town.
Long opposed to freeways, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist successfully included the demolition of the Park East freeway from 6th Street to Jefferson in the $241 million transportation plan.
Where is the project right now? Well, when things like this take place, one must navigate incredible amounts of red tape. Demolition of the freeway will cost $25 million, with federal money covering $21.6 million and the city and state picking up the rest.
On of the several options for the project has been chosen. The choice was made to eliminate the freeway bridges from 6th Street east to Jefferson, with the intention of opening up 23 acres of land for development. Traffic will be re-routed onto McKinley and Knapp Streets.
However, you won't see any of the freeway structure coming down for a while. A Finding Of No Significant Environmental Impact Statement (FONSI, pronounced "Fon-zie", but it has nothing to do with Milwaukee or "Happy Days") was submitted about a week ago to the State of Wisconsin for review. They are expecting authorization from the State and Federal governments within the next few weeks.
The westbound bridge could be closed as early as November for demolition, as two-way traffic would be re-routed onto the eastbound bridge. As construction continues on the new boulevard, at street level, once the westbound bridge is removed, the eastbound bridge will likely be demolished in fall 2002.
The western section of the new McKinley Street will be a six-lane boulevard from 6th Street to King Drive/Old World Third Street and should be open by spring of 2003. The new six-lane bridge over the Milwaukee River (a lift bridge, similar to the ones at Wisconsin Avenue and Michigan Street) should take 15-18 months to complete, opening in late spring or early summer of 2003. East of Water Street, the name will change to Knapp Street and the new roadway is slated to be four lanes to Jefferson Street.
Much of this work is designed to be finished in time for the Harley-Davidson 100th Anniversary celebration and the opening of its new museum. Festivities will take place over Labor Day Weekend in 2003.
For more information on the Park East Freeway project as outlined by the Department of City Development, go to http://www.mkedcd.org/pdfs/ParkEastNews1100.pdf.