The state Department of Transportation is considering plans to add a bike and pedestrian path to Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge, which connects I-794 to the Lake Parkway across the Milwaukee River.
Bicycle advocates are pushing for the path, which would be added as part of planned improvements to the bridge.
A path over the bridge has been under discussion for several years, especially for residents of the Bay View neighborhood on the south side of the city, who could use it to get downtown.
If it’s not installed now, there may not be another opportunity for 40 years, said state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee).
That’s because the six-lane Hoan is being redecked, or fitted for new platforms, starting in summer 2013 and will not be redecked again for another 40 years. The most cost-efficient way to put the path in would be during the redecking project, he said.
“We’ve kind of got a shot at actually adding the bike lane at the same time we’re making way for traffic,” Larson said.
The Hoan is an iconic symbol of Milwaukee, and a path on it would attract tourism, promote bike commuting and encourage healthy living, Larson said.
The redecking project is expected to cost between $275 million and $350 million, but it will remain unclear how much the bike path would cost until an ongoing feasibility study is completed in September or October, said Brian Roper, a DOT construction and consultant supervisor for the I-794/Hoan Bridge project.
There are several alternatives for the bike path, Roper said. It could be installed in place of a traffic lane on one side of the bridge, the bridge surface area could be widened to include a bike path along the side, a separate structure could be cantilevered on the side of the bridge for bikes, or the path could be suspended on a structure beneath the bridge.
Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said the governor’s office is open to the idea.
“The agency is studying the feasibility/costs associated with this project to present the governor with all of the facts and thoughts from the community,” Werwie said. “The governor has been opposed to this project in the past. That doesn’t preclude him from listening to others in the community, evaluating their input, and making a final decision with their input considered.”
State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) is opposed to the project for both safety and cost reasons.
“I think freeways are for cars,” he said. “I would be shocked if you get more than 100 (bicycles) going each way on that bridge, and I would be shocked if you get eight or nine in the winter.”
Larson and state Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) recently hosted a town hall meeting about the path. About 200 people attended the meeting to find out more about proposed plans for the path and voice their opinions. Of those who attended the meeting, the majority were in favor of the path, citing the current route from Bay View to downtown along South First Street as unsafe and the views from the Hoan Bridge as spectacular.
Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski also supports the path, which would run through his 14th District.
“We have an excellent reputation as a top ‘bicycle friendly’ city, and thousands of residents use a bicycle as their primary mode of transportation,” he said. “The Hoan path just makes sense in terms of providing our residents, commuters and visitors better accessibility and overall connectivity.”
Alderman Robert Bauman also voiced support of the project because of its expected its economic benefits.
“I believe the path will be a scenic vantage point that will provide access and draw more people to the lakefront, downtown, to festivals and to Bay View,” he said. “I also believe those people will be spending money here and adding a positive economic impact.”