Project steers clear of disruption, demolition
In October 1999, after more than 20 years of community discussions, negotiations and planning, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation opened the John R. Plewa Memorial Lake Parkway. The 3.2-mile arterial is designed to centralize traffic and divert it from suburban surface streets in south Milwaukee County.
Discussions about the parkway began in the 1960s, when it was planned as a freeway. In preparation for that project, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation completed the Hoan Bridge in 1977, linking downtown Milwaukee to the suburban communities of Bay View, St. Francis and Cudahy. Constructed as part of Interstate 794, the bridge is a multi-lane, divided highway. Residents of nearby communities became concerned about the impact of a busy expressway on their neighborhoods, and plans to construct a freeway through those communities halted.
As a result, Hoan became locally known as “the bridge to nowhere.” It accommodated six lanes of traffic, but, as travelers reached the south shore, the road shifted to a two-lane street, resulting in extensive congestion.
In 1986, following local and state battles over recommended solutions to the congestion, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWRPC), Waukesha, Wis., stepped in to help find a compromise. It formed the Hoan Bridge South Task Force, comprised of elected officials, business and community leaders, who proposed a four-lane, 40-mph parkway rather than a high-speed freeway. The state legislature agreed to provide funding, and construction began in 1992.
To keep traffic separated from residential neighborhoods, the parkway was designed as a limited-access arterial, accessible only at its beginning, ending and at two interior points. One internal access point is a signaled intersection that slows traffic. All other local streets either pass over or under the parkway. The road terminates at Layton Avenue, which leads to Mitchell International Airport.
Project design was driven by WisDOT’s desire to minimize home demolition, says Karl Pierce, WisDOT’s project manager for the parkway. To help achieve that goal, WisDOT constructed the parkway along a railroad right-of-way. It used 5-foot rather than 10- or 15-foot medians, and it constructed retaining walls rather than slopes. Ultimately, 70 homes and four businesses were removed.
While placing the parkway on the railroad right-of-way helped to minimize home demolition and to win over residents, it also increased design challenges for WisDOT and its prime consultant, Kansas City, Mo.-based HNTB. First, railroad sidetracks had to be consolidated, and contaminated sites along the tracks had to be remediated. Utilities — including electric, oil, fiber optic lines and a 5-year-old major sanitary sewer — had to be relocated. When a railroad spur was determined to be too heavily traveled for the parkway to cross, a 400-foot-long, cut-and-cover tunnel was constructed to take the parkway under the tracks. Tie-back walls limited the right-of-way acquisitions for the tunnel, and deep groundwater cutoffs prevented water table degradation during that part of the project.
All three communities were concerned about parkway aesthetics, according to Pierce. To help the parkway blend into the neighborhoods, the design team used form liners to make concrete walls resemble rock or limestone; the concrete was then painted to resemble stone and was treated with anti-graffiti coatings. The parkway features black light poles, traffic signals and fencing to minimize the “highway” feel.
Extensive landscaping is scheduled for completion this June. Because of its importance to the residential communities, aesthetics comprised approximately 10 percent of the project’s final budget, Pierce says. Final project costs are estimated at $123 million, including $85 million for construction, $2 million for soil remediation, $5 million for railroad relocation, $16 million for real estate acquisition and $15 million for utilities.
Last December, WisDOT conducted a three-day traffic count and found an average of 14,500 vehicles using the parkway each day. Traffic has increased on some surrounding roads, notably those that provide access to the parkway, while some nearby surface streets show traffic diversion. A more comprehensive study is planned for late spring when traffic patterns have settled.