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Planners aim for a calmer Menomonee River Parkway

Feb. 18, 2014

The future state of the 4.6-mile Menomonee River Parkway came into clearer view last week as parkway planners outlined a possible reconstruction option.

Planners envision a striped, two-lane road, with parking in some segments limited to one side of the street, and with bike lanes on each side.

"This is conceptual planning, not detailed planning," said Dan Snyder, of GAI Consultants, which is working with the county.

A separate trail

A separate, multiuse trail along the length of the parkway is an eventual goal of the project, but under current plans the addition of a path was limited to the stretch from Swan Boulevard to Mayfair Road. An existing path — from Church Street to Swan — would connect to it and make it a segment of the Oak Leaf Trail.

"I am very encouraged that the county's design team has listened to the No. 1 priority of the residents, which is to include a separated, multiuse trail to eliminate the conflict between cars and people," Alderman Jason Wilke said, adding the project would be incomplete without a path.

Still, further extension of the trail at this point "is not currently on the table," said Jeff Knudson of GAI. Building a trail costs about $300,000 a mile, said Sarah Toomsen, a landscape architect with the Milwaukee County Parks Department.

Rising costs

Cost figures for the conceptual plan have crept up from an original budget of $6 million to almost $7 million, with plans including the reconstruction of the road, construction of the trail from Swan to Mayfair, stormwater improvements, traffic-calming elements and improved lighting. The $7 million estimate does not include rebuilding major intersections, which are not under county jurisdiction.

Wilke said the city's Traffic and Safety Committee met with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation last year and requested safety improvements for the parkway intersections, including crosswalk markings, bicycle and pedestrian refuge islands and improved signage with flashing lights.

A call to the DOT seeking further information about its plans was not returned.

The county is expected to approve the plans Feb. 28. The County Board already has OK'd $3 million in funding for the first phase, from Burleigh to Congress streets, construction of which would begin in June and may be completed by October. The second phase, from Church Street to Burleigh, would be undertaken in the summer and fall of next year.

Changing uses

The parkway was seen as a scenic drive for bikes, pedestrians and a small number of vehicles when it was acquired by the county in 1927. Its location, ease of use, and low number of traffic signals and stop signs have made it a major commuting route, and the change has been exacerbated recently by construction blockages that funnel traffic onto the parkway.

South of North Avenue, 8,000 cars a day use it, according to county figures.

Traffic-calming features are a part of the project, and traffic humps, curb bump-outs, raised pedestrian crossings and other elements were possibilities discussed at the recent meeting. Car lanes that are better defined and bicycle lanes also may serve to slow traffic or motivate drivers to select other routes.

A better environment

"The driver of this project is, the pavement is completely shot," Knudson said. But while it's at it, the county seeks to enhance the parkway's safety and use, and, just as important, improve the state of the river and parkland the parkway follows.

"One of the goals of this project is to be better stewards of the environment," he said. Plans to capture stormwater in rain gardens along the parkway, and "somehow treat that stormwater before it gets to the river" are being discussed, Knudson said.

"If we want to improve the quality of the Menomonee River, this would be the opportunity to do it," said Troy Hartjes, of GAI.

The county is starting its work on the least-used section of the parkway — 1,000 cars a day use it from Mayfair to Congress — because of the congestion caused by the work on Watertown Plank Road, which pushes traffic onto Swan as a detour, Snyder said.

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