Don’t let Marquette Interchange gridlock visitors

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

Already, the word is getting out beyond the borders of Wisconsin that the four-year, $810 million Marquette Interchange project is going to cause some commuter headaches. In fact, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune put it this way: "An impending reconstruction of the carnival-ride Marquette interchange downtown, where highways 94, 43 and 794 tangle in a great concrete swirl, promises to complicate for years what already is a tough rush hour."
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) has worked extremely hard over the past few years on a mitigation plan to minimize the inconvenience to travelers to Milwaukee. Part of the plan includes a proactive and effective communications campaign, combined with a phased construction cycle to minimize commuter headaches.
Even in the throes of the heaviest construction period, our "rush hour" will still be considerably easier than the gridlock that grips the Twin Cities or Chicago on a daily basis.
Starting next month (and lasting until December 2006), the "North Leg" of the project will begin. This phase will demolish and rebuild bridges crossing over I-43 and rebuild I-43 from Wisconsin Avenue to North Avenue.
The DOT is launching an aggressive awareness program that will hit the airwaves in the coming weeks informing the public to "change your approach, not your destination." The DOT’s new Web site ( devoted to the project is scheduled to go live on Sept. 28.
While workers dependent on the interchange will figure out a way to get to their place of employment, thousands of small businesses and their employees are dependent upon the visitors who make the choice to come downtown to dine, shop, take in a show, stay in a hotel, attend a festival or visit a museum. Many of those businesses are small businesses.
Visitors, in many respects, are the lifeline for a robust downtown and provide the economic engine for the $2.4 billion Milwaukee area tourism and hospitality industry.
While finding a way to come to work is imperative, we must also proactively communicate to the Milwaukee area, the state and the region that downtown Milwaukee is not only "open for business" during the construction project, but is an exciting city with many things to do year-round.
Now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to advertise in our neighboring states and invite people to visit our many area attractions. Next year, two new major visitor draws will open – Pier Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Public Market. What a shame it would be if visitors were scared away from these two new destinations to our downtown area because of adverse publicity about the Marquette Interchange or just negative perceptions that the city is not accessible by car.
Let’s not just tell our daily commuters how to get to work. Let’s communicate to potential visitors that Milwaukee is open for business and better than ever!
Through the cooperation of the DOT, we’re also marketing the Marquette Interchange project as a "showcase" or "case study." We’re inviting construction industry trades and organizations to hold a convention or meeting in the city to observe "first-hand" the project by touring the construction site during its various phases. We’re currently following up on several leads from groups that have expressed interest in meeting in Milwaukee and getting an up close and personal look at what it takes to rebuild a vital transportation hub.
Bringing it home
Last month in Small Business Times, I wrote about our "Bring It Home" campaign, a program to encourage locally-based companies to hold meetings and conventions here in Milwaukee to stimulate the local economy and position Milwaukee as a premier convention destination. I’m pleased to announce that after three years of hard work by a group of local law enforcement officials and our Convention Bureau staff, we just booked the National Training Conference for the FBI National Academy Associates, Inc. This convention, to be held in 2008, will bring more than 4,000 delegates to Milwaukee.
We were able to book this business through a collaborative effort with Ken Meuler, West Bend police chief and second vice president of the Wisconsin chapter, Milwaukee Police Chief Nan Hegerty and William Lamb, North Fond du Lac police chief. Lamb will be president of the Wisconsin chapter in 2008, and Milwaukee Police Capt. Anna Ruzinski will be the conference coordinator.
In town this month
This month, Milwaukee will play host to the following conventions that will collectively bring in about 7,500 people and pump approximately $9.5 million into the local economy:
Â¥ National Defense Transportation Association, Sept. 9-15
Â¥ Ancient & Accepted Scottish
Rite Masons Supreme Council,
Sept. 18-21
Â¥ National Association for College Admission Counseling, Sept. 30-Aug. 4.
Doug Neilson is president and chief executive officer of the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau. He writes a monthly column on tourism exclusively for Small Business Times. For more information on what’s happening in Milwaukee or comments on this column, visit
September 3, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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