Interstate 794 Wisconsin
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
North End – Milwaukee, WI
South End – Milwaukee, WI
- Mileage – 3.75 (4.12)1
Cities – Milwaukee
- Junctions –
Source: December 31, 2018 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
Official Wisconsin Department of Transportation records indicate 4.12 miles.1
The East West Freeway defaulted traffic to 6th Street until 1969, when the Marquette Interchange was completed.
The Lake Freeway, along with the Park Freeway west from Juneau Park, was proposed to form an urban loop encircling Downtown Milwaukee. Only a short stretch of the Park Freeway was built, a spur leading east from the North South Freeway to Jefferson Street, while the Lake Freeway was unconstructed north of I-794.
I-794 / Wis 794
Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT)
Source: 2018-19 AADT WisDOT TCMap (Traffic County Map)
Work finally started in 1991 on a four-lane controlled access parkway extending I-794 south to Layton Avenue as STH-794. The $130-million, 3.2-mile roadway was designed with a 40 mile per hour speed limit, 10 to 15 foot high noise barriers and landscaping to create a gateway from South Side to Downtown Milwaukee.4,5
Lake Parkway (Wis 794) opened to traffic on October 1, 1999. The four-lane road was the first major road built in Milwaukee since 1978, when STH 119 to the airport opened.2 The parkway is a limited access roadway with just one at-grade intersection at East Oklahoma Avenue, and a tunnel below the rebuilt Union Pacific Railroad tracks at St. Francis Avenue.4
The removal of the Park Freeway spur north of Downtown as spearheaded by Mayor John Norquist in 1999 included a similar proposal to tear down Interstate 794. While the Park Freeway plan garnered public support as it only handled local traffic, the I-794 plan did not due to regional transportation needs. Backers of the proposal to replace I-794 with a surface boulevard cited reconnecting the Historic Third Ward area with Downtown.6
A later proposal by Mayor Norquist in 2003 suggested extending I-794 west to the Zoo Interchange as part of a plan to reroute I-94 away from the Marquette Interchange prior to its reconstruction. Read more about that on the I-894 guide.
West End – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
An entrance ramp ties into the flyovers for Exits 1B/C from 2nd and Clybourn Streets. U.S. 41 previously overlapped with I-94 west to the Stadium Interchange and south to the Airport Interchange. The concurrency was removed when Interstate 41 was signed in place of U.S. 41 along I-894 in 2015. 05/30/11
North West at
A lengthy collector distributor roadway system accompanies I-43/94 between the Lincoln and Greenfield Avenue overpasses. The c/d roadway connects the North South Freeway with Becher Street and Lapham Boulevard while the mainline advances north two miles to the Marquette Interchange with Interstate 794. 06/13/15
West End Throwback
These signs were replaced as part of the Hoan Bridge Project in 2015. Merging from the right was the two-lane ramp from Lincoln Memorial Drive by the eastern terminus of U.S. 18. The Milwaukee Lakefront Gateway Project replaced this ramp with a new ramp tieing in from an extension of Lincoln Memorial Drive to the south. 05/09/10
North West at
Posted within the Stadium Interchange with Wis 175 (former U.S. 41 and Wis 341), this sign formerly referenced the left exit ramps for both I-43 north and I-794 east. The 2007 replacement included exit tabs and Green Bay / Lakefront for the respective routes. Photo by Chris Lokken and Mike Saldivar (08/13/06).
South End / Lake Parkway – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
South End Throwback
- Wisconsin Highways: Highways 400-894 (Chris Bessert).
- “Parkway ‘fulfills’ Bay View dream.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 3, 1999.
- “Good news, bad news on new parkway.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 5, 1999.
- “Lake Parkway south-side link fulfills a long-held dream.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 21, 1999.
- “Lake Parkway to open to traffic today.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 1, 1999.
- “Deal creates different fates for freeways – Norquist, others wanted Park East spur and I-794 to fall, but latter stretch stays.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 3, 1999.
- “Regional planners approve Lake Parkway extension” Milwaukee Business Journal, December 6, 2012.
- “‘Gorgeous new addition:’ WisDOT celebrates opening of the Lakefront Gateway Project.” Fox6 (Milwaukee, WI), June 13, 2017.
Page updated May 16, 2020.