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Redesigned interchange will have a lot more than new signs

Designs take cues from surrounding neighborhoods

June 27, 2012

As drivers travel the Zoo freeway and the adjacent streets, they will get an indication of the local culture and background from the design of the streetscapes and bridges.

For instance, on the bridge at Greenfield Avenue, a pattern of gears will pay homage to West Allis' manufacturing history.

Likewise, the bike trail under the relocated Swan Boulevard will feature a wall depicting natural grasses and monarch butterflies, a nod to the County Grounds in Wauwatosa.

Several designs that bring to mind the Wisconsin State Fair - including a ferris wheel, livestock and a blue ribbon - have been suggested for the walls in the 84th Street exchange.

And a special wall up against the highway but facing into the Milwaukee County Zoo parking lot will have an animal theme.

These are some of the final recommendations made Tuesday, following meetings by a team of stakeholders who were asked to come up with "Community Sensitive Solutions," including design aspects and construction schedules.

"Opportunities exist to put designs that relate to community throughout the corridor," said Tom Kindschi, a landscape architect with the consulting firm Forward 45 and Community Sensitive Solutions task manager.

Representative for Wisconsin Lutheran College talked about a cut out of an athlete or a symbol on the wall near its property. Near Watertown Plank Road, images that reflect science and development would be appropriate, Kindschi said.

Softer touch than concrete

The group also tried to dress up intersections so they would provide an attractive entryway, have a traffic calming effect and "break up the vast expanse of concrete" he added.

For instance, numerous plantings are planned along Highway 100, the roadway that will be widened starting next year. The goal is to make it an entryway into the city and the busy commercial district, he said.

Hearty plantings that have stood up in a similar design and environment on East Washington Avenue in Madison would be used, Kindschi said.

"We selected plants that will not be tall and won't obstruct any turning movements," he said.

Permeable pavers will be used instead of plain concrete at some intersections, allowing some of the storm water to infiltrate while providing a wider array of material textures and colors. They have aesthetic and environmental benefits, Kindschi said. Bioswales are being contemplated for the larger medians, where plants that like more water could be installed.

Design cues with color

Integrating color can also provide a cue to motorists that they've entered a pedestrian area. The eight-foot crosswalk will be striped over a 20-foot wide area of colored pavement to provide additional space.

Motorists who may be unfamiliar with the area will find 30-plus advance notice signs alerting them to the upcoming cross streets and a dozen wayfinding signs to point them to areas such as the medical campus and the Mayfair business district.

Over on Watertown Plank Road, some design continuity will be found in the use of limestone as bases along the wall on the Highway 45 bridge, overhead sign posts and the pedestrian bridge that will connect Ronald McDonald House and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

Specially designed bridge

The steel arch design is supposed to give the feeling of a sunburst, said Norman Barrientos, principal architect. It will clear 19 feet and have some visual blocking because it is high up.

The bridge won't be enclosed or heated but it should provide break from the wind, Barrientos added. Perforated metal panels would line the bridge and glass stair towers would provide glowing beacons at night, he said.

On one end the bridge would connect to a new Ronald McDonald House parking structure that just received preliminary design approval from Wauwatosa. On the other end, the bridge may end at the hospital's parking structure or could connect into the skywalk - those decisions are being made now, Barrientos said.

Ongoing public information

While the Community Sensitive Solutions team's assignment is now complete, other aspects of the interchange project continue.

A public information meeting on the Highway 100 portion of road construction is planned for late September, said Mike Paddock, senior project manager with Forward 45.

In the meantime, project engineers will meet with businesses and schools that could find their access impacted by the construction and traffic detours.

"We'll be reaching out to talk about how to get this built without disrupting your businesses too much," he said.

Similarly, neighborhood meetings to discuss design concepts will be held in coming months in areas where noise barriers are planned, Paddock said.

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