The battle line between those who want to save the Hoan Bridge and those who could benefit from demolition is splitting the city into north and south divisions.
Many people who live on the south side of the bridge want any talk of demolition to stop before it starts.
Others on the north end, such as David Spano, vice president of the Italian Community Center, are willing to listen.
“You could have an enormous amount of traffic coming right through the Third Ward,” he said, “as opposed to over the top of it.”
The Hoan, which is part of Interstate 794, spans the Third Ward’s eastern end and casts a shadow on 16 acres owned by the ICC. The center eventually will seek companies to redevelop portions of its property, Spano said, but that cannot happen until the bridge’s fate is determined.
The idea to replace the Hoan with an at-grade boulevard, which the Wisconsin Department of Transportation explored last year, seems like it could work, even though the project would force the state to acquire some right-of-way land from the ICC, Spano said.
Ronald San Felippo, chairman of the business improvement district that includes Milwaukee’s Third Ward neighborhood, stopped short of supporting an at-grade replacement instead of maintaining the bridge. But, he said, businesses in the Third Ward want the thoroughfare, however it’s redesigned at the north end, to give drivers a chance to enter neighborhood streets.
“There are a number of ways to better connect into the city grid,” San Felippo said. “And that’s why they have street engineers. And there is also the potential to open some land up for development.”
As Third Ward residents mull ways to link the Hoan to their neighborhood, residents on the bridge’s south end are campaigning to keep the bridge. Roughly 130 Bay View residents gathered Monday night to oppose removing the Hoan.
Patricia Jursik, a Milwaukee County Board supervisor and the organizer of Monday’s rally, said she wants the state to fix the bridge’s road surface without changing the alignment. She said she does not want the bridge removed or disconnected from the Marquette Interchange just to connect to the Third Ward.
If there is a way to satisfy both north and south, the state should find it, she said.
“I would argue the Hoan brings people into the Third Ward,” Jursik said.
Spano said those who are opposed to the boulevard might not understand the details of the study WisDOT commissioned. The conceptual plan maintains the connection between I-794 and the Marquette Interchange through a roundabout on the north end, he said.
He said state planners and groups from both sides of the bridge should discuss how far along the Hoan planning actually is.
Michael Gardner, president of the Historic Third Ward Association, said both sides need more information before they know how a Hoan project will affect their two goals —access to Milwaukee’s downtown for those on the south side, and access to traffic for those in the Third Ward.
“The north side gets to be a little more complex in that do you get rid of elevated areas or does it go down to grade?” he said. “How do you deal with it if it is at grade? What’s the configuration?”