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Hoan Bridge’s falling concrete sparks netting project

WisDOT is putting bids out to add netting to the underside of the Hoan Bridge in Milwaukee. (File Photo by Dustin Safranek)

WisDOT is putting bids out to add netting to the underside of the Hoan Bridge over the Metropolitan Sewerage District's Jones Island treatment plant in Milwaukee. (File Photo by Dustin Safranek)

By Sean Ryan

Small pieces of concrete have fallen from the Hoan Bridge, a Wisconsin Department of Transportation official said, prompting a plan to hang a net beneath the Milwaukee structure.

The WisDOT plan is feeding the concerns of a Milwaukee County supervisor who wants the bridge rebuilt.

WisDOT on Tuesday, June 22, will request bids for a contractor to attach a net to the underside of the Hoan Bridge over the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s Jones Island treatment plant. Bids are due July 13.

Paul Trombino, WisDOT division operations director, said the bridge does not have structural problems, and the cracking concrete is common for aging structures.

“It’s routine maintenance for us,” he said. “Obviously, we’re expanding the netting to catch loose concrete pieces that may fall off.”

Trombino said some small concrete pieces had fallen from the bridge, but he said he could not estimate the size of the pieces.

Workers at the Port of Milwaukee, which is under the Hoan Bridge, have noticed pieces of concrete that have fallen off the underside of the span, said Larry Sullivan, chief engineer for the port. He said there are no reports of concrete hitting anybody or causing other problems, so the port has not asked the state to do anything about the falling concrete.

“If you look up, you see holes,” Sullivan said. “And if you look down, you see pieces of concrete laying there occasionally.”

Although the bridge is structurally sound, cracking concrete is another sign the span needs to be rebuilt or redecked, said Patricia Jursik, a Milwaukee County supervisor who has pressured WisDOT to engineer the project for more than a year.

“It’s well beyond its life expectancy, and everybody knows that,” Jursik said. “This thing was supposed to be redecked at the last budget cycle, but it wasn’t.”

Jursik said she supports WisDOT’s efforts to maintain the bridge’s road surface, but she said the need for a net does not speak well of the structure’s overall condition. She said she wants WisDOT to start engineering a project to repair the bridge deck so the work can be included in the upcoming state biennial budget.

The bridge opened to traffic in 1977.

Trombino said WisDOT has no schedule for deciding on more substantial bridge work than ongoing maintenance. He said the net is the best solution in this situation because the Hoan is farther above the ground than most WisDOT structures, making it more difficult for the department to do regular maintenance on the bridge’s underside.

It is common for concrete on aging bridges to crack when water seeps into the road, he said.

“A lot of structures have easier accessibility than the Hoan Bridge,” Trombino said, “which gives us the ability to deal with it a little easier.”

Other examples of nets used in southeastern Wisconsin include one WisDOT installed last year on the Hampton Avenue bridge over U.S. Highway 45 and another installed on the Hoan in 1993 that covers its underside over the Summerfest grounds.

The new net will stretch from the southern end of the Jones Island treatment plant to the Milwaukee harbor inlet north of the plant, Trombino said. The contract also includes repairing the net over the Summerfest grounds.

“We’re netting to catch the concrete because, in this case, you have a facility that sits under it,” Trombino said, “the same as with Summerfest.”

Bill Graffin, MMSD spokesman, said the sewerage district is cooperating with WisDOT because contractors will use portions of the treatment plant property as a staging area for the net project.

“We’re working with them on the schedule of getting the work done,” he said, “and as far as we know, it’s just precautionary.”

Jursik said, given the inability to get state money to rebuild the Hoan, she may join the movement calling for a state constitutional amendment that would segregate the Wisconsin transportation budget.

Milwaukee County officials have been reluctant to join the push to put advisory referendums on the November ballot, she said. But Jursik said she is thinking about leading a charge for a referendum in Milwaukee County.

“It’s beginning to look very attractive to me,” she said. “And I’m beginning to think long and hard about it because eventually the Hoan Bridge is just going to be left holding its hands out.”


  1. I’m glad that I gave up boating several years ago. As usual there is very little concern for the boater that passes under this bridge. Captains, be sure to wear hard hats!!!

  2. Have we forgotton that that dishonest, lying, idiot liberal jack *** of a Governor Doyle, raided the transportationn budget and left the tax payers with crumbling roads and bridges??????
    That thug should be put in jail.
    Is there any doubt as to why that bridge has not been re-decked? Who were the idiots that voted for that embarrassment for a Governor?
    If the bridge was to fail and someone was to get hurt, who would Jim Doyle and his cronies blame? Sounds like the Zoo interchange scam we were sold.

  3. If there is high likelihood of concrete falling from that bridge, than netting should certainly be put under the part of the Hoan over the Milwaukee River to protect boaters from falling concrete and to minimize any other contaminants that might be associated from entering the river. When the Marquette Interchange was being constructed there were several incidents of large pieces of concrete falling into the river, once right in front of my canoe! The DOT needs to be more proactive of protecting boaters and the rivers during their construction projects. We shouldn’t have to wait until there is an accident for something to be done; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in this case!

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