National Avenue in Milwaukee to be rebuilt

State providing $23.3 million for project

National Avenue at Seventh Street, looking east
National Avenue at Seventh Street, looking east

Last updated on February 19th, 2020 at 04:54 pm

The city of Milwaukee is getting $23.3 million from the state for the “complete reconstruction” of National Avenue, city and state leaders announced Monday morning.

The project will allow the city to rethink how the major commercial corridor handles traffic of all sorts, from buses to cars to people, officials said.

Coupled with $1.4 million in local funding, the money will used to rebuild a roughly 2.6-mile stretch of National Avenue between South First Street in Walker’s Point to South 39th Streets at the West Milwaukee border, not far from Miller Park, said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

National Avenue is part of state Highway 59.

“This (project) will enhance the roadway’s safety, efficiency and aesthetic value,” Barrett said. “Transportation and economic development go hand-in-hand. With this corridor being home to so many businesses and community groups, this project will undoubtedly benefit them as well. And clearly, it will benefit those who travel on National Avenue for leisure and business, including companies that are moving goods and services.”

Dewayne Johnson, WisDOT southeast region director, said the department will likely seek contractors for the work beginning in 2025. And Jeff Polenske, commissioner of Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works, added the work would likely be broken up into two roughly one-mile segments over 2026 and 2027.

The project will involve the entire right-of-way along National Avenue, including the street itself up to the sidewalks, said Polenske.

With construction still about six years out, the city has time for planning, soliciting public feedback and designing the street. This work will include, among other things, taking surveys and researching the history of crashes along the stretch.

“It’ll give us some time over the next three, four years here to really develop the project, to design it, to work with the community,” Polenske said.

And while planning and engineering still needs to take place, Polenske gave an overall picture of what the rebuilt National Avenue could look like. He said the city will have a chance to redesign and rebuild the street in accordance with its Complete Streets policy.

Adopted in 2018, the policy is meant to make city streets safer, more enjoyable and more convenient for all modes of transportation beyond the personal vehicle. This includes public transit, walkers and cyclists, and also keeps in mind people of all ages and abilities.

There is not a specific design that a “complete street” follows. But a commercial corridor designed under its principles would likely include features such as wider sidewalks, curb extensions and bike lanes.

“This really is an opportunity for us work with the DOT, take a look at the design of the street, how it better accommodates all users of the street, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit users,” Polenske said. “So, it’s an opportunity to apply that Complete Streets policy that we try to apply to all our projects.”

He pointed to South Second Street in Walker’s Point as an example. Rebuilt about ten years ago, the $4 million project included narrowing the street from 58 feet to 50 feet, adding grass terraces on each side, reducing traffic lanes from two to one in each direction and adding bicycle lanes.

“That actually was probably one of the first times we did a ‘road diet,’ where it took a little convincing of the state to get them to accept it and prove it, but look what’s happened (with development) on South Second,” Polenske said. “It’s just amazing.”

Barrett noted that National Avenue is considered a connecting highway, or a local street that carries state highway travel throughout the city of Milwaukee.

“Some of our major arterials, used by thousands of Milwaukee’s visitors and residents every day, are connecting highways,” he said.

State government reimburses local communities for performing work on these types of streets. Over the last several years, the city typically received $5-6 million for various connecting highway projects, the largest project of those being the $10 million reconstruction of Chase Avenue that was completed last year, said Barrett.

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.