The Hoan Bridge is one of the images that is uniquely Milwaukee. Along with the Calatrava, Miller Park and the Summerfest Smile, all can lay claim to being integral to the fabric that makes up the collective Milwaukee identity.
Recently, the Hoan has also become the focal point of the discussion of what our transportation infrastructure should look like in the coming generations.
The discussion of what to do with the bridge is symptomatic of the larger transportation discussions we face. The points being made on all the various transportation projects that are in the works right now and in the near future can be seen in the arguments relating to the Hoan Bridge. Each of the projects being discussed at this time have at their core a similar set of issues. Who the project helps and hurts, how it is to be paid for and what role the project plays in the long-term transportation plan. These questions are key to transportation planning decisions for our area.
It is worth the effort to look at what the answers to these questions are before making a choice as to which of the possible plans should get our support. If the Hoan is taken down and replaced with ground-level roadways, who will be the benefactors and who ends up getting hurt?
There would seem to be a great opportunity to develop the land on the north side of the bridge near the Summerfest grounds. Any residential development would face the challenge of being overrun each weekend of the summer with the patrons of the various festivals held on the grounds. It certainly would be a desirable location for certain persons to live in. The same desirability does not exist towards the south end of the Hoan.
Given the activity and growth of operations at the Port of Milwaukee and the treatment plant being located right there, little if any development seems possible. Running a surface level roadway through the area does not change any of that. Once south of the port area, another area of development could be expected.
The area near Bay Street, given time, would see new development and increases in property value.
So who would be hurt with the removal of the Hoan Bridge? St. Francis, Cudahy and Oak Creek would lose out on the development that is in the works for the areas that are near the end point for the Lake Parkway.
Even the City of Milwaukee would lose out on potential advantages. The connection to Mitchell Field that the Hoan provides will drastically impact many of the long-term plans for airport area development. It must be asked how many of these plans fall apart without the route the Hoan provides to the downtown.
It seems that many of these potential developments could be endangered by removing the Hoan. Which would have the greater impact long term? When we take a broader view of economic development around the region, it looks like the impact on development near the airport could outweigh the benefit seen near downtown.
What about the cost of the project? Rebuilding the Hoan may carry a larger price tag than going with a surface level option. Do the savings warrant a complete change from the current situation? When the Hoan was first built, it was not connected to the balance of the transportation system in any meaningful way.
With the completion of the connection to I-794 and the addition of the Lake Parkway, the "Bridge to Nowhere" is now a vital link to the southeast portion of Milwaukee County.
Of course, the hard dollar cost of the project also needs to be linked to the prospect of future development. Given the comparison of who is helped and hurt by such a project, it is not entirely clear that the development in one area measures up to the loss in other locations.
Which brings the discussion to the single point that should help direct what project ultimately gets the go ahead, and that is how the project fits in with the region’s long-term plans. Without a clear vision on where we are going, any final plans could leave a hole in our transportation infrastructure.
When the Interstate system was first being planned, some parts of the system were not completed (or even started). This has led to challenges in getting people and products around the region. We are at the very early stages of a complete rebuild and upgrade to our transportation systems here in southeastern Wisconsin. We need to be mindful that the choices we make today will impact future generations of Milwaukeeans.
The discussion as to the future of the Hoan bridge will be an interesting one. The choices we make now will have a lasting imprint on our communities. The answers will not be easy to arrive at, but with solid leadership and a clear regional vision for the future, the right choices can be made.
State Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) represents Wisconsin’s 82nd Assembly District.