Interstate 794 is a short freeway spur connecting the Marquette Interchange at Interstates 94 and 43 in Downtown Milwaukee with the Milwaukee Bayfront and Jones Island on Lake Michigan. I-794 extends the East West Freeway from I-94 to the Lake Freeway, which runs south along Milwaukee Bay to the Daniel Hoan Bridge. A tied arch span, the Hoan Bridge crosses the Milwaukee River Inlet and carries I-794 south onto Jones Island and the Port of Milwaukee.
South of the Carferry Drive interchange (Exit 3), the Lake Freeway transitions into Wisconsin 794 (Lake Parkway). Lake Parkway extends the route southward as a controlled access highway through St. Francis to Pennsylvania Avenue in Cudahy. The parkway section travels below grade south of the tunnels at St. Francis Avenue, while the Interstate portion is entirely elevated.
The Hoan Bridge Project9 commenced in October 2013. It involved the reconstruction of Interstate 794 from the Milwaukee River at Downtown south to Jones Island. The first stage, from late 2013 to late 2014, affected all of east and southbound with the removal and replacement of bridges, concrete overlay and surface repair and redecking of the Hoan Bridge. Northbound work (stages 2A and 2B) ran from the end of 2014 to December 2015.
Completed with a ribbon cutting ceremony held on June 13, 2017, the Milwaukee Lakefront Gateway Project reconfigured the Lake Interchange where I-794 turns from the East West Freeway onto the Lake Freeway. Two new ramps, from I-794 east and to I-794 west, replaced ones built for the unconstructed north Lake Freeway extension. The new ramps were built to the south, opening a two and a half acre site for development beside the proposed 44-story Couture tower.8
Lake Parkway Extension
A six mile extension of Lake Parkway (Wis 794) was approved by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission on December 5, 2012. Funding is still needed however for the $207-million project that will extend STH-794 south from Edgerton Avenue to STH-100, mostly adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad.7
Interstate 794 opened initially as a spur from the Marquette Interchange to Plankinton Avenue (Exit 1D) in 1968. A short extension followed in 1969 to Jackson Street (Exit 1E).1 The Lake Interchange, where I-794 turns from east-west to north-south, was constructed with elements for the unbuilt Lake Freeway north to the Park Freeway.
Origins of the Lake Freeway and Parkway date back to 1929 when Lincoln Memorial Drive opened north from Downtown. Residents in Bay View, Cudahy and South Milwaukee sought a similar road to Lincoln Memorial Drive to better connect them with the city center. This led to discussion by city and county officials of a southern extension of the route in the mid-1920s. Plans however were initially sidelined due to the Great Depression, but mid-1930s momentum from Bay View business groups netted official support, with the city commencing funding on a southward extension of the drive in 1936.2
By 1941 a bridge or tunnel was envisioned at the Milwaukee River, with the parkway extending south to the city line. The advent of World War II curtailed progress on the project to 1945, when escalating costs resulted in city officials shelving the project. Increasing traffic congestion and the establishment of the Interstate system led to the 1963 Milwaukee County expressway system plan, which included a harbor bridge between Downtown and Bay view. By 1967 the Lake Freeway south to Layton Avenue was included.2
Work on the Lake Freeway kicked off in 1970, with construction of the Danial Hoan Bridge since the right of way was already public land. The tied arch bridge was completed in 1974, but was disconnected to other roads. This was due to opposition resulting from lawsuits, petitions and demonstrations from area residents involving the remainder of the Lake Freeway. The bridge was finally connected to area surface roads in 1977.2
An extension of the roadway southward from Carferry Road remained planned, but options varied with a 1986 study comprising a 3.3-mile long four lane arterial along the North Western Railroad tracks. Another proposal involved tearing down 600 feet of the Hoan Bridge and extending the roadway at-grade across an intersection with Carferry Road.3