Why is the Hoan Bridge Blue and Yellow?

We keep repainting it the same colors, and nobody seems to care.

The Hoan Bridge has always been the same colors: blue and yellow. When it first opened to traffic in 1977, it was blue and yellow. When engineers demolished and replaced a sagging section in 2000, they repainted it blue. And as the current redecking is completed later this year, workers will paint the support beams and superstructure, you guessed it, blue and yellow. (“Ochre-yellow,” to be precise.) Named for Milwaukee’s second of three Socialist mayors, Daniel Hoan, the bridge has outlasted both attempts to replace it with a lakeside boulevard and the ire of early freeway opponents, who prevented Interstate 794, then still under construction, from connecting to the new blue and yellow bridge for some five years. Between 1972 and 1977, the “bridge to nowhere” was about as functional as a hood ornament (painted blue and yellow).

For years, this color scheme has been a foregone conclusion, and how it came about may have been lost to time. Michael Pyritz, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, says he couldn’t find anyone left in the agency who could explain “how the original paint was selected.” The DOT took “input” on plans for the bridge’s updated appearance in April 2013, but a controversial – and ultimately successful – proposal to illuminate its twin archways with colored LED lighting stole the show.

“There was no real consensus to consider an alternate paint color,” he says. “Most involved seemed to [expect] the paint would remain the familiar colors.”

So, barring a bombshell, the Hoan Bridge – expected to last another 40 to 50 years before a second redecking is required – will retain much the same colors as a sandy beach. Is this a bad thing? Officials in both Tokyo and Glasgow, Scotland, have experimented with installing blue streetlights and believe that the calming hue has slightly reduced crime rates in the illuminated areas. Some Japanese train stations have even positioned blue lights above boarding platforms, hoping they’ll reduce the number of suicide jumpers, a strategy that’s shown some signs of success. Perhaps we could all do with a little more blue (and yellow).

‘The Hoan Bridge Blues’ appears in the March, 2015, issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.