By Andrew Weiland   Published Apr 12, 2013 at 12:02 PM

One of the most interesting aspects of the state Department of Transportation's $278 million Hoan Bridge rehabilitation project in Milwaukee has been largely ignored by the media and the public, so far.

The DOT plans to add LED lights along the golden arch structure of the bridge. The cost for the aesthetic lighting for the bridge will be between $500,000 and almost $1 million, said Ryan Luck, chief construction engineer of southeastern Wisconsin freeways for WisDOT. The aesthetic lighting plans were on display at the Hoan Bridge public open house held this week.

"The plan is to light the arch," Luck said. "It's in our plan. We're taking feedback on it."

Many of the world's most iconic bridges, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, are architectural marvels and are lit up at night, which enhances their status as major landmarks in their cities.

But, other than the lights along the roadway, the Hoan Bridge structure is not lit up and essentially disappears into the darkness of a Milwaukee night.

The Hoan Bridge is certainly not in the league of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Brooklyn Bridge, but it is a prominent Milwaukee landmark that would be greatly enhanced if it is lit up at night. WisDOT considers the Hoan Bridge to be one of the state's eight most iconic bridges, Luck said.

Some have made a compelling argument that the Hoan Bridge should be torn down and the entire Lake Freeway should be replaced by a grade-level street. That makes a lot of sense and would help attract development along the lakefront south of downtown. Prime lakefront real estate is no place for a freeway.

However, that ship has sailed. The Lake Freeway and the Hoan Bridge have become an important route from the south side to downtown and beyond. Residents and political leaders of the south side have adamantly fought any plans to eliminate the Lake Freeway and Hoan Bridge. WisDOT's rehabilitation project for the Hoan Bridge is scheduled to begin by the end of the year.

Bottom line: the Hoan Bridge is here to stay.

And since it is, we might as well make the bridge as visually appealing as possible.

"Given that the only true view of our skyline is when entering our city from the south and the west, yes I would say that lighting up the Hoan would add substantially to beauty of our city at night," said Greg Uhen, managing partner of Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects Inc. "Much like the six street viaduct does but on a much more iconic scale. Of course the view from the water would be spectacular."

The LED lights on the bridge will be able to change color, Luck said.

"Different colors could be used for different events or themes," he said.

No doubt, some taxpayers will be upset to hear that the state plans to spend between $500,000 and $1 million on lights for a bridge.

But there is no reason that the public works infrastructure that we use and look at every day has to be ugly or even dull. Aesthetic enhancements like lights on the Hoan Bridge can help improve the appearance and image of the city.

Other aesthetic improvements that will be part of the Hoan Bridge project include landscaping that will be added along Clybourn Street and between Water Street and the Milwaukee River and a new Jefferson Street pedestrian walkway between downtown and the Third Ward.

This is happening as several major developments are in the works that would enhance the downtown Milwaukee lakefront area. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. plans to build a new 30- to 35-story office tower. Developer Rick Barrett plans to build a 44-story apartment and hotel tower. Development firm Irgens plans to build an 18-story office tower. After the Hoan Bridge project is complete, the Lake Interchange will be reconfigured to open up a three-acre site near the lakefront that could attract another major development. Lincoln Memorial Drive will be extended into the Third Ward, which could help attract more development there, particularly on the Italian Community Center property.

Last year Milwaukee World Festival Inc. completed major improvements to the Summerfest grounds, including the addition of the new BMO Harris Pavilion stage, creating a new lakefront landmark.

A rebuilt Hoan Bridge that is lit up at night is one more project that will enhance the scenic lakefront area.

Andrew Weiland is the managing editor of BizTimes.