The Hoan Bridge Might be Getting LED Lights After All

If a few tenacious Milwaukeeans have their way, the Hoan Bridge will be a beacon of light in the not-too-distant future.

During the 2013-15 reconstruction of the Hoan Bridge, plans to light the 10,000-foot “Bridge to Nowhere” were quietly nixed to save taxpayer dollars. Now, community volunteers are reviving the project. 

Daniel Steininger – grandson of Daniel Hoan, Milwaukee’s socialist mayor from 1916-40 for whom the bridge is named – found a MilMag article covering the initial lighting plans, which were abandoned due to costs. He brought it to the attention of a couple friends, including Michael Hostad and Ian Abston, who each thought, “Hey, we can do this.”

Abston is Milwaukee’s self-proclaimed “Millennial Expert.” He founded the NEWaukee millennial network in 2009, gave a TED Talk in Fargo two years ago, is a current Salvation Army board member and appears to be the quintessential optimist for the future of Milwaukee.

Hostad is employed by the Greater Milwaukee Committee as the executive director of The Commons, a platform for collegiate entrepreneurs to collaborate with one another and professionals to develop their ideas.

Together, they lead the Light the Hoan brigade, as both of their career paths focus on brightening the future.

“When we first heard the idea we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Hostad says.

Adorning the bridge with an undefined number of LEDs will cost around $5 million. Individual donors will cover the first $1.5 million, with the rest coming from corporate partnerships, if all goes according to plan. They have around $150,000 already and would like to have completed the project by August 2019.

The project is not without precedent. Since 2013, a 1.8-mile-long stretch of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has held the world record for largest light art installation, with 25,000 individual remote-controlled lights.


The number of years it took to complete the bridge, which opened in 1977.


The number of “Saturday Night Live” stars whose car did a backflip on an unfinished approach to the Hoan Bridge in The Blues Brothers.


A proposed partnership with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee would bring synchronized audiovisual shows to the bridge.

[alert type=white ]Tune in to WUWM’s “Lake Effect” Aug. 20 at 10 a.m. to hear more about the story.[/alert]

In Canada, Edmonton’s High Level Bridge got lit in 2014 after a crowdfunding effort collected $2 million for 60,000 LED bulbs. “We wanted to be able to point to a symbol of all of that goodness of living in Edmonton,” Glenn Kubish, the city’s director of communications and engagement, explains via email. “A bridge was an especially potent symbol. This city is built and will be sustained on the strength of our ability and willingness to connect.”

Milwaukee’s lights may change color, as Edmonton’s do for festivals and sporting events, or create light shows similar to the installation on Bay Bridge. The idea of creating synchronized audiovisual shows has already been floated via a partnership with 88Nine Milwaukee.

“If Las Vegas can have water fountains that dance every couple hours, why can’t we have lights that dance?” Hostad says.

“Get Lit” appears in the August 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan