For the second time in a decade, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation rejected a proposal to add a bike and pedestrian lane to the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge connecting downtown Milwaukee with neighborhoods and suburbs to the south.
In an announcement Friday, Secretary Mark Gottlieb cited the cost and the projected traffic problems in declining to include the pathway in the plans for a major bridge rehabilitation set to begin in 2013.
"The Hoan Bridge is a vital part of the Milwaukee-area freeway system," Gottlieb said in a news release. "However, the alternatives presented in the feasibility study would impair our ability to provide safe, efficient travel and deliver less value than other possible department investments in economic development in Milwaukee."
The DOT similarly rejected a bike and pedestrian proposal in 2002, and instead decided to build an on-street route that would accomodate bicyclists traveling between Bay View and downtown. Little of that work has been done, although a raised bike lane was installed on Bay St. this year.
An off-street pathway on an abandoned rail corridor and improvements to Water St. are scheduled to start in 2013.
State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), one of the leading proponents during this latest push for a Hoan Bridge bike lane, criticized the DOT decision.
"We are disappointed that the DOT did not listen to the voices of business leaders and the thousands of neighbors who advocated for this unique generational opportunity," Larson said. "The vast majority of constituents I heard from supported this project. It is unfortunate that we will probably have to wait another 40 years to revisit this."
The pathway intended to unite the Oak Leaf Trail on either side of the bridge divided area residents, who submitted hundreds of comments to the DOT in letters and emails.
One anonymous writer captured the opponents’ sentiments: “Engaging in even talking about such an absurd idea of putting bicycle traffic on the Hoan Bridge is such a waste of time and money that as a taxpayer in this city it makes my blood boil over.”
Stephanie Betancourt, 72, focused her objections on the difficult time at hand.
“In the times we are in, I don’t think the money would be appropriately used,” she said. “With so many people out of work and the streets in dire need of repair, I think the money could be better spent elsewhere.”
Advocates questioned the traffic projections used to determine that eliminating a traffic lane for a path would create severe congestion during the morning rush hour.
During repair work this summer, when the bridge was restricted to two traffic lanes, roughly 12% of motorists found an alternate route. Still, the DOT estimated traffic on the Hoan would increase to 58,400 each weekday by 2035, and did not account for any diversions.
They also touted the economic benefits of an amenity they viewed as a tourist attraction, similar to facilities on the Golden Gate Bridge and the Cooper River Bridge in South Carolina.
State Rep. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) collected more than 5,000 signatures on petitions supporting the bike path, and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin submitted a supporting letter with signatures from 40 local business and government leaders.
“We believe that a bike and pedestrian path on the Hoan Bridge will greatly improve the accessibility of downtown Milwaukee and Milwaukee’s lakefront, which will benefit businesses, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike,” wrote Bill Purcell, chairman, president and CEO of Robert Baird & Co.
The prevailing sentiment, however, was that the bike lane would be used by too few people to justify the cost.
State Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) wrote: “Not $9, $9 million or $90 million should be spent on this project.
“We must build and legislate to satisfy the masses. We must balance the difference between need and want. This project meets none of the above."