By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 17, 2022 at 10:28 AM

Have you ever wondered how Milwaukee might look in the future?

Rethink 794, a group that seeks to remove the section of I-794 running through Downtown, from the Marquette Interchange to the lakefront, has created a series of renderings that show sites along the corridor today and how they could look in the future.

That means how they could look with the freeway replaced with an at-grade boulevard. The group estimates that replacing the spur – a la the Park East freeway segment – could open $1.5 billion in land for potential development.

The bulk of that segment of freeway was built in the late 1960s – though it wasn't connected to the Hoan Bridge until 1977 – and much of it was rebuilt circa 2013-15.

mapX

“There is so much opportunity around reimaging I-794 in Milwaukee,” said Gregg May, Transportation Policy Director at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, in a statement released Monday. “This underutilized highway sits on 32.5 acres of Wisconsin’s most valuable real estate. With the mayor recently setting a goal to reach one million Milwaukeeans, we are urging elected officials and city staff to study I-794 as an at-grade boulevard.

“This project would reconnect two key neighborhoods, open new areas for development, and strengthen the city’s tax-base. Reimagining 794 has so much potential which would help the mayor reach his goal.”  

May said there's no specific date put on the renderings, but that, "2030 is a good goal."

Rethink 794 – which includes local advocates, volunteer professionals, and environmental and transportation advocacy groups – is amping up the discussion of this long-bandied idea now because the corridor is slated to get $300 million in repairs, making it the perfect time for a re-think.

“Sixty years ago, the elevated highway through downtown Milwaukee erased the historic character of the city in the name of progress because it was, at that time, the best intended use of that urban space,” added Xu Zhang, Landscape Architect & Urban Designer at Dover, Kohl & Partners, who created the street-level renderings.  “Now, in this new millennium, is an elevated urban highway the best we can imagine for this prime area? Across the country, efforts to transform interstate highways that have outlived their intended use into walkable neighborhoods have gained momentum and support.

“Rebuilding I-794 as an at-grade boulevard could reconnect downtown neighborhoods, restore a sense of place, and offer new development opportunities.  Infrastructure projects, such as interstate freeways, may outlast one’s lifetime; we must consider what legacy we want to leave for the next generations.”

The Wisconsin DoT is currently studying the issue, at least as far west as the Milwaukee River, and is accepting public comment via its website.

These types of replacement discussions are taking place all around the country now, according to Charles Birnbaum, president & CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

"This is part of a national trend towards healing cities riven by urban renewal-era highway construction projects," Birnbaum said. "Indeed, there’s some $1 billion in the recently passed infrastructure bill – but there is also $273 billion in new highway construction, which dwarfs the funding for 'healing' projects."

Rethink 794 – which includes local advocates, volunteer professionals, and environmental and transportation advocacy groups – will host a webinar on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at noon during which it will share the renderings. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required at tinyurl.com/4fj4y8e7.

“The East-West stretch of I-794 has divided the urban fabric of Milwaukee’s downtown and Third Ward district for decades, said Milwaukee architect Taylor Korslin, who created the aerial renderings. “Now we have the opportunity to decide that this key space within the city should be put to better use for the next 50 years. We set out to provide a bold vision for what these 32.5 acres could become if the raised interstate was replaced with a boulevard along Clybourn Street.

“For nearly one third the cost to reconstruct this stretch of freeway, it could be removed and replaced with a boulevard, opening up nearly 30 acres of value. These are places people want to be, to live and work. We know what the future holds if we simply reconstruct this portion of freeway, the unknown, however, is the potential for what it could become if replaced with a boulevard.”

Imagine the kind of transformational project that has spurred so much development and rethinking of Milwaukee on both sides of the river at the Park East happening again, this time along St. Paul and Clybourn Streets.

It's the kind of thinking and planning that could lead to this:

Now

nowX

2030

thenX

Now

nowX

2030

2030X

Now

nowX

2030

2030X

Now

nowX

2030

2030X

 

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.