MILWAUKEE — An environmental advocacy group is leading an effort to demolish the Lake Interchange in downtown Milwaukee to clear land for development, according to our partners at the Milwaukee Business Journal.
The grassroots effort from 1000 Friends of Wisconsin comes as the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) takes its first steps to replace aging bridges in the interchange.
Last week the DOT opened its website to plan for the future of 28 bridges connecting east-west Interchange 794 downtown to the northern edge of the Hoan Bridge, as well as off-ramps onto local streets, the Milwaukee Business Journal reports. The central links, which date to the mid-1970s, need a full rebuild in order to remain safe. In December of 2021, DOT officials estimated the rebuild would cost $300 million.
The cost sparked "a lot of grassroots local interest," transportation policy director Gregg May told the Milwaukee Business Journal. May has since helped organize the “Rethink 794 in MKE, Reconnect the Grid!” effort. It proposes removing the new and old I-794 bridges from Sixth Street on the west and East Chicago Street on the south, the Milwaukee Business Journal reports. May said Clybourn Street could become a two-way boulevard and make the same connection between the remaining Hoan Bridge, and Marquette Interchange to the west.
This would open nearly 32.5 acres for new development, and according to studies the group performed with a volunteer broker, would be valued at more than $1 billion.
"Removing highways can be cheaper than repairing or replacing them," May told the Milwaukee Business Journal. “Just because we have spent a lot of money on this project doesn’t mean it should stick around.”
The DOT does not expect to finalize a plan until November 2023 with the earliest construction beginning in 2025. A public comment period is yet to come.