Music fans on their way to Summerfest this year will have something to celebrate beyond the 50th anniversary of the massive outdoor concert festival.
Conspicuously absent will be the orange cones that, in recent years, had dotted many of the routes leading to the Summerfest grounds.
The roughly two-week-long festival officially kicked off on Wednesday. Well aware of the swarms of pedestrian and vehicle traffic that Summerfest and other summer events bring to downtown Milwaukee ever year, local officials decided to postpone work on parts of the city’s $124 million streetcar project until fall rather than worry about setting up detours with all their attendant delays and headaches.
In particular, the Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works announced Tuesday that streetcar work on West St. Paul Avenue would be halted until this fall. That means all of that street’s lanes will be open for Summerfest and other summertime events.
City officials have stressed how hard the streetcar team has worked to prevent the project from harming nearby businesses. A big part of those efforts has entailed trying to schedule construction work around Summerfest.
“We are working with major stakeholders and different special events that are occurring,” Jeff Polenske, city engineer, said at a Common Council committee meeting on Wednesday. “Just as we’ve done with other projects, probably at a much larger scale, we do have a very large support for business effort taking place.”
Polenske said streetcar crews have tried to keep at least one lane of traffic open on all the streets they are working on. Those efforts will help keep traffic flowing in parts of downtown away from West St. Paul, particularly on streets where work on the streetcar will not be brought to a halt.
Local officials expect to have the entire project wrapped up by the fall of 2018. They are now looking for someone to operate the streetcar and plan to have their choice named by the end of July, said Polenske.
Meanwhile, many people coming to Summerfest by highway over the next two weeks will get a first-hand view of the fruits of the city’s Lakefront Gateway project.
The state’s part of this $34 million project was substantially completed late last year, and various sorts of punch-list work were wrapped up this spring. The project, a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, greatly reconfigured the routes drivers use to get to the city’s lakefront using Interstate 794.
Among other things, the project moved I-794’s eastbound exit and westbound entrance ramps further south of North Lincoln Memorial Drive, rebuilt the intersection of North Lincoln Memorial Drive and East Clybourn Street, extended North Lincoln Memorial Drive into the Third Ward to connect with Chicago Street and turned a section of East Clybourn Street from Van Buren Street to North Lincoln Memorial Drive into a four-lane, divided boulevard.
Not only does this year’s Summerfest mark the first time festival-goers will be using the new interstate ramps and reconfigured Lincoln Memorial Drive intersection. It is also the first time in three years that WisDOT does not have an active project near the festival grounds, according to Michael Pyritz, a WisDOT spokesman.