By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 06, 2023 at 9:01 AM

As planning proceeds on work to deal with two deteriorating concrete pedestrian bridges spanning the lagoon in the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Washington Park, Milwaukee County Parks has proposed replacing the spans.

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County Parks hosted an open house for community members in the park’s senior center on Wednesday. The event shared information on the project and sought concerns and feedback from neighbors.

A Power Point presentation explaining the proposed replacement of the bridges was also shared.

According to that presentation, the existing bridges, which were constructed in 1938, have suffered “significant” deterioration of the stone and concrete.

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Photographs show loose and falling stones and failing mortar joints, as well as broken concrete and exposed reinforcing rods. There are cracks and potholes in the bridge surfaces.

In addition to being off limits to service vehicles the bridges also fail to meet code and ADA standards due to railing heights and slope grades.

The presentation also noted that, “Overgrown vegetation near bridges limits views to and from bridges and creates safety issues. Unmaintained woody vegetation near bridge abutments is negatively impacting structures.”

The bridges replaced earlier ones that were added when the original 1892 lagoon was expanded with a four-acre section to the east, creating a small island.

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Aerial view of the lagoon.
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The asphalt path between the bridges on the island is also in need of repair and is part of the project.

At a December 2021 public information meeting, most respondents preferred restoring rather than replacing the existing bridges, with a many favoring the look of the current bridges or even the original 1907 design.

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Postcard view of the 1907 span.
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Concrete replacement was the second favorite option, with timber replacement and prefeb steel replacement options faring less well.

A rehabilitation would be expected to last another 25 years, with concrete predicted to endure for 100. Timber and steel options would be expected to last about 75 years before requiring replacement, according to the presentation.

Rehabilitation would have the highest 100-year life cycle cost, according to the county, and while the initial cost of the concrete replacement is highest ($620,000 vs. $525,000 for rehab), the new bridges are expected to have the longest life span.

“An in-depth analysis determined that rehabilitation of the existing bridges was more costly due to significant labor requirements to repair stone facades, and not feasible due to the shorter service life of a rehabilitated bridge,” the presentation noted.

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Renderings of the proposed new bridges.
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Work is expected to begin this year, but that is not guaranteed, said Brad A. Drefcinski, PLA, CPSI, who is Senior Landscape Architect/Project Manager at Milwaukee County Parks.

"There was very positive response to the proposed concrete bridge structures," Drefcinski said. "Some were disappointed we couldn’t rehabilitate and save the existing stone clad bridges, but there was good discussion with community members and understanding why saving the existing bridges was not feasible."

Funding for the project was approved as part of the 2023 Milwaukee County capital budget for construction.

The proposed work will include replacement of the bridges; replacement of asphalt bridge approaches with improved accessibility; new asphalt paths to connect to the new Urban Ecology Center (on which work is expected to begin this year); new asphalt path on the island; removal of unhealthy vegetation and trees to improve safety and prevent negative impacts to new bridge structures; removal and cutting back nearby vegetation to improve views; and regrading and replanting slopes near bridges to prevent erosion.

“While the infrastructure of the park is important to its users, we understand that the historic design is also important," said Melissa Muller, co-chair of Washington Park Neighbors.

"We take a neutral role in how the grounds are managed. We are very happy, however, that they will be repairing the bridge as it connects the Urban Ecology Center to the bandshell area and that is most important to us.”

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.