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Loosening Up the Lakefront
Bipartisan roadwork plan will unlock land for Downtown development

A triumvirate of state politicians who have not always played nicely in the sandbox together teamed up Monday to announce a major roadwork plan that will open up, improve and further develop Milwaukee’s Downtown lakefront.

Gov. Scott Walker, Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive Chris Abele stood together at Discovery World to reveal plans to extend Lincoln Memorial Drive further south, move the I-794 freeway ramps near the Hoan Bridge and build new pedestrian bridges. The hope is to optimize for development the underutilized, prime real estate in the eastern part of the Historic Third Ward that is difficult to access and mostly occupied by parking lots.

The proposal came to pass thanks to a pleasant bit of bipartisanship, after Walker agreed to have the state foot the estimated $16 million bill for the new I-794 ramps. Originally, the Department of Transportation wanted the city to pay for that construction. For his part, Barrett said the city would cover the costs of extending Lincoln Memorial Drive south to Chicago Street (it currently runs into the I-794 on-ramps just past Clybourn Street) as well as pay for the pedestrian footbridges and other roadwork.  

The creation of the new freeway ramps will be financed as part of the state’s $278 million reconstruction of the Hoan Bridge. Extending Lincoln Memorial Drive further south and pushing the I-794 ramps away from Downtown is part of an effort to create space for aesthetic improvements and corporate development in the area, including plans for a 44-story hotel and apartment complex at the current site of the Downtown Transit Center.

The state-financed Hoan Bridge and freeway construction is scheduled to begin this fall, with the city-funded roadwork expected to commence at the same time.

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