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Bridging the Divide

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A project along the Milwaukee River has potential to be a great example of how inter-governmental bodies, non-profits, and developers can work together to create a green infrastructure for its citizens. If construction of a new pedestrian bridge is completed as planned, Riverwesters will soon be able to walk along the west bank of the Milwaukee River from the north end of Riverwest to its southern border at Commerce Street, cross a pedestrian bridge over the former North Avenue dam to the East Village at Caesar’s Park, and continue north along the river’s east bank to Riverside Park and beyond. The question, however, is not whether the bridge or parts of the trail will be finished, but how well connected the pieces will be. There are still a few crucial sections that need to be built in order to create a seamless trail along the west bank of the river before the trail and bridge become easily navigable. Not surprisingly, politics and the wishes of developers are holding the project back. One of the missing pieces is an easement that Readco, a company who plans to construct condos on the northwest side of the North Avenue bridge, had earlier this year been asked to give to River Revitalizatrion Foundation. This swath of land would allow a trail to connect the city’s portion of land up to the soon-to-be built Beerline bike and hiking trail. Then there’s the bridge. “The bridge was supposed to be done months ago,” said Kimberly Gleffe, Executive Director of RRF. The concrete deck has been poured, the land has been graded, and a section of the city’s portion of the trail has been asphalted. Mike Loughran, Project Engineer with the City of Milwaukee, says the bridge should be completed by the end of October. That’s good, but how people will link to the trail from the west end of the bridge is another story. As it currently exists, the bridge appears to dead-end into the Wheelhouse parking lot, a property up for sale for a modest $3 million. What will happen if this property is purchased by a developer who wants to put condos right up to the bridge? On the positive side, the City recently paved a trail from the end of Riverboat Road, along the bluff, to beneath the North Avenue viaduct. Milwaukee County will extend this trail up to the abandoned railroad corridor to Gordon Park, a project that will hopefully take place in spring 2005. Additionally, Mandel Group, developer of Rivercrest Condominiums, has indicated that they will construct a connection between the lower bluff trail and upper Commerce Street. Let’s hope the future developer of the Wheelhouse property will continue the movement at the river of creating livable greenspace. We need it to preserve what is left of our natural ecosystems as we provide for the health and well-being of humans who dwell within them.