Freeway or street? DOT seeks public opinion on future of Highway 175

NOW: Freeway or street? DOT seeks public opinion on future of Highway 175

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- People who live near the Stadium Freeway had their first chance Thursday to tell transportation officials in-person how they think the state should improve the main road heading north from American Family Field.

Under the microscope is a 1.5-mile stretch of Highway 175 connecting I-94 and Lisbon Avenue. Currently, it's a six-lane freeway running uninterrupted. Main east-west streets, such as Wisconsin Avenue and Vliet Street, cross over the highway.

However, there have been growing calls from neighbors and local officials to tear up the freeway and replace it with an at-grade boulevard that has intersections and traffic lights instead of on and off-ramps.

Melissa Muller is among the replacement supporters. Walking her dog along the Washington Boulevard overpass Thursday, she said turning the freeway into a street would better connect the neighborhood, while also slowing down traffic in all directions.

"[The freeway] really does create, sort of, this ripple effect in the neighborhood," Muller said. "Trying to get through as fast as possible seems to be the norm."

Opponents maintain converting the freeway to a boulevard would be much more expensive, and an unnecessary cost, at that.

Jonathan Rupprecht, a Washington Heights resident, said he worried tearing down the freeway would also lead to significant congestion along streets that Highway 175 currently flows under.

"There are better ways of controlling reckless driving than destroying a freeway and backing up traffic to five times what it is now," Rupprecht said.

Rupprecht also pushed back on supporters' position the freeway divided neighborhoods.

He said while some freeways have torn apart neighborhoods, that wasn't the case with the stadium spur because much of it was a natural barrier between residential areas and Washington Park or sliced through a largely industrial zone.

"Between Washington Park and Washington Heights, the park is the divider between the houses east of the park and the houses west of the park," he said.

Opinion columnist Dan Shafer countered removing the freeway would better connect nearby residents and Washington Park. He added replacing the freeway with a boulevard could potentially spur new development at the new intersections.

"Would you rather have a quicker commute time? Or would you rather invest in neighborhoods?" Shafer said. "I think that's what it ultimately comes down to."

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley have said they support tearing up the freeway and replacing it with a street. 

As for the cost differential, that remains unknown. Wisconsin DOT Spokesperson Dan Sellers said discussions are at such an early stage, there haven't been any cost estimates for either freeway improvements or a complete transformation.

Once those estimates do come in, the GOP-controlled legislature would have to approve funding for either highway project. Shafer said he was hopeful Republican leaders could be convinced removing the Stadium Freeway was the best option for economic activity on the city's west side.

"I mean, that's always the question with anything when it comes to Milwaukee," Shafer said. "Whether the Republicans in the legislature will pony up and invest in Milwaukee."

Those interested in submitting online feedback about the project can do so here.

Share this article: