You may not have heard much about it lately, but there is still plenty of behind-the-scenes work going on regarding the possible demolition of the Park East Freeway, according to City Planner Peter Park and Brian Swenson, Vice President and Director of Operations at HNTB, the group charged by the city and county with studying the feasability of plans for the freeway.
According to Swenson, work is currently in the environmental assessment phase. When the studies are complete, any one of five options may be chosen.
1) It may be recommended that no change be made and this one appears unlikely as there is widespread governmental and public support for the demolition of the roadway which, according to Swenson, has 25 years of life left in it, structurally.
2) The so-called McKinley alternative would build a road to carry traffic just north of the current freeway with two lanes of traffic and one lane of parking in each direction. A new bridge at Juneau Ave. would be built and the road comes down to grade from the elevated ramp off I-43 at 6th St. This option offers the most land for redevelopment.
3) The 4A alternative carries the road above 6th St., as is now the case, and brings the street to grade at 4th St., offering somewhat less land for redevelopment.
4) Alternative 4B is similar to 4A but will result in two new intersections rather than one.
5) Finally, the Juneau alternative is similar to the McKinley alternative, but brings the road south to Juneau, which may cause problems with disruptions of traffic patterns.
According to Swenson, the current environmental phase is expected to be completed in fall, with the design phase slated to run from December to May 2001 with demolition expected to begin in summer in 2001. The plan is expected to be completed in late 2002 or spring 2003.
In his presentation to the Brady Street Association meeting on August 15, Park told the assembled audience that bringing down the Park East Freeway would replace space currently wasted on surface parking and empty lots with housing, offices, retail and other amenities.
"We can make a better riverfront than we have," he said. "It's underutilized."
In addition to opening up the land for redevelopment and allowing a growing neighborhood to continue its trajectory, hopefully bolstering downtown as it makes its upward arc, taking down the freeway would help restore the original city street grid, which allows traffic to go where it wants to go, rather than forcing it to one or two freeway exits, where it can backup and cause delays.
As for parking, photomontages and artist renderings of projected neighborhoods take that into account with parking structures being integrated into building stock in a more sympathetic and productive ways.
"We're trying to balance development," Park said. "To create a better place. The Brady St. neighborhood was disconnected from downtown (by the Park East Freeway). This is our legacy. (Our challenge is) how do we make something better out of this? How do we grow a city?"
Also on hand at the Brady Street Association meeting were Harvard-educated architects Grace La and James Dallman, who have a firm in their Third Ward loft. The husband and wife team detailed plans and displayed a model for a footbridge strung beneath the Holton St. viaduct, linking Brady St. with the north bank of the Milwaukee Riiver.
The so-called marsupial bridge would be slung beneath the viaduct and supported by existing infrastructure put in place decades ago to support trolley traffic in the center of the bridge's roadway.
Soft uplighting would illuminate the bridge for safety but would also highlight the wonderful iron work of an historic Milwaukee bridge. A new bus shelter at the northeast corner of Brady and Holton Sts. would serve as a gateway to the path leading to the marsupial bridge.
While taking advantage of existing infrastructure and representing the fruition of good planning and smart, attractive design, it remains to be seen whether or not pedestrians will feel safe on a bridge hidden from view of passing cars.
Another footbridge across the river is currently in initial stages. This Calatrava-designed link would span the river just south of the North Ave. dam. It is likely that both structures will be in competition for some of the same federal funds, but both are supported by the neighborhood, which is dedicated to creating links with surrounding neighborhoods.
There will be a public hearing about the Park East Freeway project on September 28, at a location to be announced. Call the Brady Street Association for further details, 414-289-0264.