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A Bridge to Nowhere?

Aug. 2, 2012
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Drivers heading north on the Hoan Bridge can catch a wonderful view of Downtown Milwaukee. The Hoan Bridge—located on Interstate 794—begins at the southeastern portion of Downtown and ends at the Port of Milwaukee. Today, the bridge is known for its beautiful views of Downtown and Lake Michigan. However, the Hoan Bridge was once an issue of contention in Milwaukee, when many claimed it to be "The Bridge to Nowhere."

Construction on the Hoan Bridge began in 1970 and took two years to complete. The bridge stretched 1.9 miles across the Milwaukee River, connecting Downtown Milwaukee to South Side neighborhoods with a 1,140-foot tied steel arch. Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff (HNTB) designed the bridge, which, upon completion, was not connected to the surrounding highway system—earning the Hoan the nickname of "The Bridge to Nowhere."

It would not be until 1998 that the long-proposed Lake Parkway extension would be complete. This extension of I-794 connected the south end of Downtown to Layton Avenue and Mitchell Airport.

But there would be more problems for the Hoan Bridge. In December 2000, a crack occurred on the bridge while motorists were on the road. The cracked section of the bridge was taken out, and it would be a few months before some lanes were available for drivers in each direction. All lanes reopened about a year later.

The bridge is named after Daniel Hoan, mayor of the city of Milwaukee from 1916 to 1940, who was well known for his progressive social projects. His administration built many of the city's parks, sewers, street lighting and transportation systems. Hoan's administration built public housing and created one of the first bus systems in the county. He was known for his passion for education and desire for health care for all citizens of Milwaukee. Hoan's term was the longest consecutive Socialist administration in U.S. history.

The Hoan Bridge still carries thousands of cars, trucks and buses each day on its six lanes—some filled with people going home or to work, others heading to the airport for a trip. Regardless of their destination, most Milwaukeeans today acknowledge that the bridge takes them somewhere important, rather than nowhere.


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