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NBC TMJ4 - 10/19/2022

NBC TMJ4 - 10/19/2022

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Interstate 794 could be demolished to address aging infrastructure and replaced with new businesses and public space, according to Milwaukee's downtown comprehensive plan.

Tearing down the interstate between the Milwaukee River and Hoan Bridge could connect downtown and the Third Ward with the lakeshore, and activate space previously used by roadways for business development and greenspace. Boulevard conversion could generate $15 million in annual property tax revenue for the City of Milwaukee, and add needed housing in a high demand area, says a Madison-based advocacy group, 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin, which has endorsed the project.

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Interstate 794's barrier between downtown Milwaukee's east side, the lakefront and the Historic Third Ward should be reimagined, with a focus on planning its eventual replacement with at-grade streets, according to a new city proposal.

Both are part of Milwaukee's new downtown comprehensive plan, proposed by Mayor Cavalier Johnson's Department of City Development. That plan, last updated in 2010, includes such goals as growing downtown’s population; investing in parks and other gathering spaces; expanding and enhancing transit; reconnecting places divided by barriers; improving streets to support all users, and redesigning streets as public places.

The city's plan calls for a focus on eventually removing I-794. It also says that if removal is not feasible "any interim alternative should prioritize modernization of the infrastructure to reduce the footprint, activation of the public spaces and streets under the bridges, improvements to the ramp connections, and increase safety for pedestrian crossings."

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Interstate 794 should eventually be torn down and replaced with new private developments, surface level streets and public spaces, according to the city of Milwaukee’s proposed long-range downtown plan.

That draft downtown plan could make the city a significant force in the growing push to remove I-794’s east-west bridges between the Milwaukee River and lakefront. Mayor Cavalier Johnson and his administration have been enthusiastic about the possibility of removing the interstate bridges. It is now encouraged in the draft Connecting MKE plan that sets initiatives and investments for the downtown area for the next 17 years.

“It’s important as a part of this plan to not shy away from things that might be difficult or that are going to garner some raised eyebrows,” Lafayette Crump, commissioner of the Milwaukee Department of City Development, said of the idea's inclusion in the draft downtown plan. “It’s important to put a stake in the ground here that this is something that must be evaluated,” Crump added.

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ONMILWAUKEE - 04/26/2023

The Department of City Development has released a draft of its Connec+ing MKE plan for Downtown and it includes some ambitious ideas.

From future use of the Milwaukee Public Museum and State Office Building sites in Westown, to four route extensions of The Hop (Westown, Bronzeville, Walker’s Point, East Side), to development of the site of the Marcus Center parking structure, to the removal of I-794 through Downtown, the report outlines some potentially game-changing steps forward for the city.

The I-794 Lake Interchange cuts through the heart of Downtown Milwaukee and serves as a barrier between the East Town neighborhood, the Historic Third Ward, and the Lakefront – three of the region’s most desirable areas. The location and design of this freeway spur is in conflict with the overarching goal of a Connected Downtown and should be reimagined, with a focus on planning for an eventual full removal of the I-794 Lake Interchange and replacement with a traditional connected grid of comfortable multi-modal streets, public spaces, and high-density mixed-use development.

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URBAN MILWAUKEE - 04/26/2023

The Department of City Development is ready to get to work on advancing a new shared vision for downtown Milwaukee. It has seven catalytic projects it’s focused on as part of a new downtown plan, Connec+ing MKE Downtown Plan 2040.

  • Re-envisioning the east-west portion of Interstate 794 to replace it with a boulevard or narrow its footprint

  • High-density redevelopment of the Milwaukee Public Museum site

  • Extending the streetcar system in three directions – south Walker’s Point, north to Fiserv Forum–Bronzeville and northeast to the Lower East Side

  • Rebuilding N. 6th Street as a complete street for all users

  • Reconfiguring N. Water St. to prioritize mass transit and pedestrians while creating more sidewalk space

  • Redeveloping the Marcus Performing Arts Center parking structure with high-density development

  • Creating a public space management organization to fund, program and maintain downtown parks and plazas.

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NBC TMJ4 - 04/26/2023

The face of downtown Milwaukee could look completely different under Milwaukee's draft long-range plan. The plan includes plans to tear down I-794's east-west bridges.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson and his administration have been enthusiastic about removing the bridges...That proposal is now in the draft Connecting MKE Plan which sets investments and initiatives for the city over the next 17 years.

The plan was released Wednesday and specifically calls for the full removal of I-794 and replacing it with surface streets. If that's not possible, the plan says the interstate should be rebuilt smaller, with more use of the land underneath the bridges as well as more pedestrian safety efforts and ramp connections.

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FAST COMPANY - 02/03/2023

Peter Park, Milwaukee’s former planning director and a longtime proponent of tearing down I-794, said the Inflation Reduction Act and other available federal funds present an opportunity for cities, including Milwaukee, to move further away from a polluting and costly highway system that burdens local, state, and federal systems, toward a healthier and more economically sustainable approach.

“It’s the difference between spending public money on things that cost more to maintain in the future and realizing that those things are not necessary anymore,” said Park. “We need to think about the long-term benefits rather than the short-term inconvenience of traffic congestion.”

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URBAN MILWAUKEE - 01/25/2023

Livable cities organization the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) will name Interstate 794 in downtown Milwaukee as one of its 10 “Freeways Without Futures” in an upcoming report.

The nomination comes as a result of a campaign by the Rethink 794 coalition to replace the east-west portion of the elevated freeway between Downtown and the Historic Third Ward with a boulevard. The organization is asking the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to formally study a boulevard replacement between N. Lincoln Memorial Dr. and N. 6th St.

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Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson on Monday is expressing openness to demolishing I-794 on downtown's southern edge, a step some environmentalists and urbanists have been advocating.

In doing so, he evoked the development that has taken place on the empty lots left behind when Milwaukee's Park East Freeway was replaced with surface streets 20 years ago.

"How do you look at Park East being gone and what's there presently ― the Deer District, Fiserv Forum, a hotel going up right now, other development that's going to happen down the line ― and not think, what if?" Johnson said Monday during a meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. "I'm certainly interested in having the conversation to see what the possibilities are," he said.

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A member of Rethink 794 joins The Morning Show with Lee Rayburn to discuss a proposal to dismantle portions of I-794 and promote walkable and bikeable communities.

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FOX 6 NEWS - 10/25/2022

The Grassroot organization Rethink I-794 proposes turning a portion of I-794 into a boulevard that will connect downtown Milwaukee and the Historic Third Ward...Business leaders in the Third Ward said they are eager for more information.

The coalition is pushing for a formal study of their proposal. FOX6 News reached out to the mayor’s office for his take on their suggestions. A spokesman said the mayor is very open to rethinking I-794 and wants more people to consider roadways for more than cars and look into how they affect bicyclists, pedestrians, businesses and nearby residents.

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Some Milwaukee business and community leaders are open to the push by a small but vocal group of local planners and residents advocating for demolition of downtown’s Interstate 794 bridges to be replaced by a boulevard and new development, which could include offices, apartments or green space.

The Milwaukee Business Journal asked a group of business and community leaders if they supported the effort to remove the east-west I-794 highway bridges roughly from Sixth Street to Lincoln Memorial Drive to make way for a boulevard and additional development. You can read some of their responses below.

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CBS 58 - 10/18/2022

The topic of what to do with Interstate 794 is front and center. An independent group wants your input as consideration is being made to potentially tear it down.

The DOT's already got a study underway for what could be a major overhaul of 794. Some say the highway that's been carrying cars over the lake for 50 years is actually doing the city a disservice.

Some call 794 the freeway to nowhere. Grassroots activists think the freeway built in the 1970s to help connect the suburbs to downtown Milwaukee should be turned into an at-grade boulevard, like this rendering they put together.

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WISN 12 ABC NEWS - 10/18/2022

The grassroots organization Rethink I-794 has been pushing for an at-grade boulevard study for the Interstate 794 corridor.

It is hosting a webinar at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 19. to reveal renderings made by area designers who have volunteered to work on the project. 

Rethink I-794 is advocating for reconnecting downtown to the Third Ward, opening land for potential development, creating better walking and biking connections and strengthening the city's tax base.

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ONMILWAUKEE - 10/17/2022

Rethink 794 – which includes local advocates, volunteer professionals, and environmental and transportation advocacy groups – is amping up the discussion of this long-bandied idea now because the corridor is slated to get $300 million in repairs, making it the perfect time for a re-think.

“Sixty years ago, the elevated highway through downtown Milwaukee erased the historic character of the city in the name of progress because it was, at that time, the best intended use of that urban space,” added Xu Zhang, Landscape Architect & Urban Designer at Dover, Kohl & Partners, who created the street-level renderings.  “Now, in this new millennium, is an elevated urban highway the best we can imagine for this prime area? Across the country, efforts to transform interstate highways that have outlived their intended use into walkable neighborhoods have gained momentum and support.

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URBAN MILWAUKEE - 10/17/2022

A new coalition, known as Rethink 794, has a vision to see Interstate 794 in downtown Milwaukee replaced with a boulevard. It’s a proposal the group thinks could save money, grow Milwaukee and better connect the city.

Their proposal, which they’re asking the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to study, would keep the Hoan Bridge. But the east-west elevated freeway between N. Lincoln Memorial Dr. and N. 6th St. would be replaced with a street-level boulevard. The coalition released renderings Monday of what the reconfigured street could look like, with the Historic Third Ward reconnected to Downtown.\

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WTMJ - 09/15/2022

“We’re seeing cities around the country rethinking their downtown highways, turning them into boulevards, spurring development,” said Gregg May, transportation policy director for 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “In our conversations with the DOT they said they’re going to be looking at a boulevard study. Hopefully we’ll get a shot with [their] engineers.”

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There is public backing for replacing the freeway with an at-grade street, said Gregg May, transportation policy director at 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin, which focuses on connections between land use planning, transportation and the environment. "Is an elevated highway the best land use?" asked May, whose professional background is urban planning.

[The] Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce supports studying a boulevard option for I-794, said President Tim Sheehy..."the context of repurposing what would be high value, developable land for the city," Sheehy said. "Development that would add livability and tax base to land that is roadkill at this point."

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1000 Friends of Wisconsin posted on Twitter about that $300 million replacement cost when it became public last December “and it just blew up,” said transportation policy director Gregg May.  He has since helped organize the “Rethink 794 in MKE, Reconnect the Grid!” effort that proposes removing the new and old I-794 bridges roughly from Sixth Street on the west and East Chicago Street on the south, he said. Clybourn Street running through that area could become a two-way boulevard to accommodate the traffic and make the same connection between the remaining Hoan Bridge, and Marquette Interchange to the west, May said.

That would open about 32.5 acres for new development valued at more than $1 billion, according to studies the group has performed with a volunteer broker. “I-794 sits on some of the most valuable real estate in the entire state of Wisconsin,” May said. “Is the best use of this land to have an overbuilt highway that can maybe move people through a minute or two faster?”

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