The summer of crumbling concrete

    The Doyle administration is kicking the future of the Hoan Bridge down the political road. It will become the next governor’s problem.

    Gov. Jim Doyle appears to lack the political will and the funds to do anything more than apply nets around the bridge to catch its falling concrete.

    There seems to be a whole lot of public crumbling going on around here. First the Zoo Interchange began falling apart and needed emergency temporary replacements to some of its bridges.

    Then a chunk of concrete fell and killed 15-year-old Jared Kellner at Milwaukee County’s O’Donnell Parking Garage on June 24. That tragedy has prompted an independent review of all of the county’s structural facilities by GRAEF engineers.

    That county review is the responsible thing to do. We’ll worry about the blame – and the liability – later.
    Our Rome isn’t burning. It’s crumbling.

    Let it be said here that putting up interspersed netting to catch concrete as it falls off the Hoan Bridge is not a sufficient or wise public policy. The bridge spans over the Historic Third Ward, the Summerfest Ground, the Milwaukee Harbor and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District Treatment Plant.

    The potential for tragedy here is obvious.

    “It does fit the same path as the Zoo (Interchange). How long are they going to keep falling apart?” said state Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), the state Legislature’s foremost expert on transportation issues. “I think when you start to have pieces of concrete falling off, there needs to be more urgency. The plan right now is to catch the pieces that fall off the Hoan.”

    Last October, the Milwaukee Press Club presented a Newsmaker Luncheon on the Hoan Bridge. We assembled a panel that included Stone; Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik; Pete Beitzel, vice president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce; and Eric Reinelt, director of the Port of Milwaukee.

    They engaged in an forthright and open discussion about the options for the Hoan, which include repairing it, replacing with a street-level draw bridge and extending it to Ryan Road in Oak Creek.
    Notoriously missing in action at that meeting was someone – anyone – from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. We invited Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi and his next-in-command Chris Klein, neither of whom could attend. They declined to send anyone to represent their department.

    That lack of vision, urgency and priority is frustrating for Stone, Jursik and the mayors of several south side suburban communities, who see the Hoan as a vital link to downtown Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

    At this point, I would like to make my own addendum to the DOT’s policy of trying to catch the concrete as it falls: Anyone passing beneath the Hoan Bridge is advised to consider wearing a hard hat. And move as quickly as you can.


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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