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Opportunity

Today I-794 poses an unnecessary barrier between two of our flagship neighborhoods, but it doesn't have to be this way. Between the northern terminus of the Hoan Bridge and Waters Street, I-794's footprint consumes 32.5 acres of the most valuable commercial and residential real estate in Wisconsin, estimated to be worth as much as $1.5 billion. Several structures on the east-west section of I-794 have reached the end of their useful life, presenting a once in a generation opportunity to reconnect Milwaukee’s traditional commercial center to the Historic Third Ward. WisDOT’s own data shows that this portion of I-794 is underutilized as majority of I-794's drivers are traveling to and from downtown and the Third Ward rather than using the full length of the interstate. Our goal is to have the City of Milwaukee and WisDOT study removing this elevated portion of I-794 and reconnect the heart of our city.

The Park East Freeway removal yielded over $1,060,000,000 of private investment in development projects, with the potential for an additional investment of $250 million on the few remaining undeveloped parcels (DCD Staff n.d.). Removing just a small portion of I-794 will accelerate the revitalization downtown and the Historic Third Ward have experienced.

Imagine Reconnecting Downtown and the Third Ward

Imagine a Neighborhood Instead of a Highway

Imagine Clybourn Street as a Boulevard

News and Events

Our Priorities:

Rethinking I-794 presents a rare opportunity for Milwaukee to reverse its declining population through exciting new developments, address a plague of pedestrian deaths, and reconnect our city to its most prized natural wonder: Lake Michigan.

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Reconnect Downtown and the Historic Third Ward

I-794 is a relic of a time when planners, engineers and elected officials thought of Downtown Milwaukee and the Historic Third Ward as commuting destinations rather than growing neighborhoods. Today, more than 23 million annual visitors flock to Cream City for business and leisure travel. Though tourists and residents alike have fallen in love with the heart of our city, I-794 ensures these flagship neighborhoods remain severed from one another.

 

What if Milwaukee’s downtown transportation system reflected the city we are today?

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Reconnect Milwaukee and Lake Michigan

Much of the Hoan Bridge was built on in-fill, extending Milwaukee's coastline into Lake Michigan. This space was intended to “be used exclusively as a public park, parkway, amusement or recreation grounds”. Instead, it's a parking lot desert. Milwaukee avoided building a full downtown freeway loop, but it still cut itself off from Lake Michigan by building I-794 and acres of surface parking. Rethinking I-794 could present an opportunity to create new recreation opportunities and enhance connections to Lakefront State Park, the Hank Aaron Trail, and Oak Leaf Trail.

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Milwaukee Leads Freeway Removal Movement

There has never been a freeway to boulevard conversion project that did not enhance business activity and quality of life. Milwaukee has helped pioneer urban freeway removal by demolishing the Park East Freeway and spurring over a billion dollars in private investment in development projects. Notable freeway removals have also occurred in San Francisco and Rochester. Now our effort to Rethink 794 is part of a larger movement across the nation with cities looking to create prosperity by removing dangerous, expensive freeways.

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Increase Accessibility

A 2008 study from a consulting firm hired by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation concluded that 794 is “oversized for its current and projected traffic” and stated that creating “a roadway that meets appropriate capacity” could free up land for other uses (Snyder 2016, 58). A study of three highway removal projects, including the Park East Freeway, found no evidence that the projects increased traffic. Instead, traffic is redistributed onto the street grid below (Snyder 2016, 4). I-794 is a glorified freeway spur primarily used to access I-94. Rethinking I-794 as a surface-level boulevard and reconnecting the grid will reduce congestion and make driving downtown less stressful by giving drivers more ways to access points to I-94.

About

Rethink 794 is a community-driven project led by the team at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. 1000 Friends of Wisconsin was created in 1996 with a focus on promoting Wisconsin's Smart Growth Comprehensive Planning Law. Over the years we have continued to defend the law but have also expanded our mission to advance healthy communities, positive economic outcomes, and environmental benefits in Wisconsin. We understand that climate change and land use are intrinsically linked. Our goal is to help people make the connection between sound land use and transportation decisions, which lead to a healthier, cleaner environment.

This website was built by Jack Connors, our Policy Research Assistant, without whose help, none of this would have been possible. Thank you Jack! Follow him on twitter @notJackConnors.

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