Heated debate continues to rage over whether to repair or redesign the Hoan Bridge, but
some local officials say the dispute is quickly becoming moot.
One group wants to resurface the aging Interstate 794 bridge in its current design. A resolution introduced by Alderman Terry Witkowski last week supports that approach.
Opponents, including the city’s Department of Public Works, argue the state should at least consider whether other designs would improve the structure.
“This is a $200 million to $300 million investment that we’re making in this bridge,” City Engineer Jeff Polenske said, “and does it make sense to look at alternatives?”
City Department of Public Works officials last month wrote a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation asking for alternative designs to be considered and offered for public comment.
The analysis could take place at the same time WisDOT is engineering a project to rehabilitate the existing structure and need not delay repairs, Polenske said.
“This is no different from any other project that we work on with the DOT,” he said. “We’re communicating our support for something they (WisDOT) had offered to do.”
Chris Klein, executive assistant to WisDOT secretary Frank Busalacchi, was unavailable for comment.
Committing to the long process of devising alternatives, releasing them for public comment and engineering a new structure could delay repairs, said Patricia Jursik, Milwaukee County Board supervisor. Designs for the bridge redecking must be done in time for the project to be included in the state biennial budget that will be approved in 2011, she said.
“If we’re going to be doing some pie in the sky alternative planning for this thing,” Jursik said, “it’s too late.”
An engineering study commissioned by WisDOT in December 2008 explored the idea of tearing down the high-rise bridge and replacing it with an at-grade boulevard, which would open up land in and around the Port of Milwaukee for redevelopment.
That study spurred Jursik and other elected officials representing communities on the south end of the bridge, including Witkowski, to campaign for a bridge redecking.
But debate over the bridge may no longer be relevant, said Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman. He supports an exploration into the ways the bridge could be redesigned, especially on the north end.
Bauman in July wrote a resolution that would ask state planners to look into designs allowing pedestrian and bike traffic on the bridge and to eliminate the bridges that form the interchange at its north end.
Bauman, chairman of the city’s Public Works Committee, never scheduled a hearing for his resolution. There’s no point in arguing over the bridge anymore, he said, if there is not enough time to do anything but design a rehabilitation.
“It doesn’t say anything very positive that the city, county elected officials can’t settle on a central plan,” he said of the debate.
Resurfacing the bridge would make it last for more than 30 more years, Jursik said, offering plenty of time to consider options for the future.
“If we’re going to study some major alternatives,” she said, “they should start planning now for the next 30 to 35 years.”