Some local organizations have proposed an urban mountain biking course underneath the Marquette Interchange, an area used much of this year as a homeless encampment, or “tent city.”
The preliminary plans for the bike course would become the second phase of a clean water project, a Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District-led plan aimed at managing freeway runoff before entering local waterways.
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However, a discussion earlier this week prompted city officials to question how the project would prevent the homeless population from returning to tent city in spring of 2020 ahead of the Democratic National Convention.
“They will absolutely be back and I suspect in far greater numbers because of the perception they can have a political impact,” Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman said at a Public Works Committee meeting this week.
The clean water project covers approximately 16 acres under the Marquette Interchange – an area bound by East Clybourn Street to the north, East Saint Paul Avenue to the south, 6th Street to the east and 12th Street to the west.
Stormwater from the freeway is currently collected in downspouts, which are connected to a network of underground storm sewers, said Kurt Sprangers, city Department of Public Works engineer. A portion of that flow is picked up by a combined sewer and sent to the Jones Island treatment plant, while the remainder is discharged into the Menomonee River untreated.
Using a variety of green infrastructure elements, runoff would be stored and filtered before returning to storm sewers. The new green infrastructure would collect up to 150,000 gallons of rainwater and cost approximately $1 million to construct – funded by MMSD, Sprangers said.
The clean water project falls within the city’s approved Green Infrastructure Plan, which envisions Milwaukee adding 36 million gallons of storm water storage through green infrastructure by 2030.
Construction on the first phase of the project will begin after the National Democratic Convention, Sprangers said.
Bauman asked Sprangers what is being done to prevent people from returning to the homeless encampment. Sprangers said fencing is a consideration, adding that some fill was placed beneath the Marquette interchange. But Bauman wasn’t convinced.
“I received a lot of complaints about this encampment,” Bauman said. “It’s not obvious how this plan will preclude camping.”
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which owns the property, recently ordered those living in the tent city to leave in an anticipation of the clean water project.
An organization called the “Friends of the Underpass” in the meantime is drumming up support for its proposed urban mountain biking course.
Milwaukee Recreation Department Coordinator Andrew Rossa and Bruce Keyes, founder and chairman of Bublr Bikes and president of the Menomonee Valley Partners, are behind the mountain bike course initiative.
Keyes said he has discussed the project with mountain bike park designers to test the viability of the idea, including the designer behind Runway Bike Park in Bentonville, Arkansas.
With the plans at a preliminary stage, Keyes and Rossa don’t know how much the project would cost. However, they have looked at a park in La Crosse that cost $250,000 with the help of a lot of volunteer labor.
“Other designs we’ve looked at, we’ve seen costs that are in the $1.5 million range,” Keyes said. “There’s a huge variety of cost factors.”
Rossa said the proposed bike park could be used by a combination of the public, Milwaukee Public Schools as well as members of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, which has a large presence the Milwaukee area, he added.
“It would give an opportunity for kids in the city to get different experiences,” Rossa said. “From an urban setting, we don’t have a lot of trails accessible to the students.”
A public open house for those curious about the clean water project, or the recreational plans, is slated for Dec. 17 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District at 260 W. Seeboth St.