Milwaukee to Continue Focus on Aging Infrastructure in 2015

The City of Milwaukee’s preliminary 2015 budget will continue a decade-long emphasis on steadily rebuilding the city?s aging core infrastructure of sewers, streets, bridges and street lighting, Mayor Tom Barrett said last week.

This network of public works, along with water mains, extends into each corner of the city, but it is easy for everyone to ignore it all through the course of a day, until something goes wrong, according to Barrett. Deep, vehicle-jarring potholes on streets, the closings of deteriorated bridges, blackened streetlights and collapsed, clogged or overflowing sewer pipes quickly grab the attention of motorists and residents.

Since Barrett was elected mayor in 2004, the city has more than doubled spending on sewers, streets, bridges and lighting, from a low of $36.7 million in his first budget in 2005, to a high of $85.6 million in 2014, according to annual spending figures provided by the city budget and management division.

Bob Bauman, chairman of the Public Works Committee, said the Common Council has played a hand year after year in pushing for increased spending on infrastructure, particularly streets, if council members thought the administration was not budgeting enough.

“There will never be a point when everyone is satisfied, when there are no potholes,” Bauman said. But if you don’t boost investments over time, the city risks falling behind on maintenance, he said. He has observed overgrown, unusable alleys in Detroit that were abandoned by the city due to a lack of funds.

Projected spending on the four pieces of infrastructure in 2015 stands at $82 million, an amount that Barrett described as maintaining his commitment to go beyond only fixing things when they break to improving the pieces over time.

Public Works Commissioner Ghassan Korban sees annual changes in spending as minor adjustments while the long-term trend is a steady rise in funding.

?Every city is facing the same challenges of aging infrastructure and lack of funding,? Korban said. ?I feel a lot better about where we are and where we are heading.? Korban acknowledged the city has a long way to go. The amount of work that needs to be done was on full display last winter with an unusually high number of water main breaks in the extreme cold.

The city will step up main replacement from a projected eight miles this year to 15 miles of mains in 2015, then ramp it up to 20 miles by 2020. It costs more than $1 million to replace a mile of main. The Milwaukee Water Works has a separate budget largely set by state-mandated rate cases, so spending on mains was not included in the comparison of infrastructure budgets more directly controlled by the mayor and Common Council, according to Budget and Management Director Mark Nicolini.


The city’s 204 bridges are among its costly challenges. The proposed 2015 budget includes $8.91 million for bridge work.

The city is keeping pace with a goal of reconstructing or upgrading an average of one of its 21 movable bridges a year, and completing the job by 2020, Korban said. Those bridges span the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers. The commitment to renovate the historic movable bridges started with the administration of former Mayor John Norquist .

In 2015, the city will spend an estimated $5.4 million to begin renovation of the S. 1st St. drawbridge over the Kinnickinnic River. The remaining bridge budget of $3.51 million will go to repairs on some of the other 183 bridges throughout the city.

The St. Paul Ave. lift bridge over the Milwaukee River in the Historic Third Ward reopened in June after it was closed for renovation for more than nine months.


Milwaukee will spend around $21.7 million in 2015 to maintain its 1,267 miles of streets, under the proposed budget. One new program will expand a successful rapid repaving effort that focused on high-traffic streets the last few years to neighborhood streets in 2015, Barrett said.

The top 2 in. of pavement between curbs is removed and replaced with new asphalt in the same day, depending on weather. This extends the life of a street up to 10 years before major rebuilding is needed, said Korban. The proposed 2015 budget includes $5.5 million for this work on up to 37 miles of streets.


The total length in miles of Milwaukee sewers — 2,461 — is nearly equivalent to the mileage of a round trip drive between Milwaukee and San Antonio, Texas.

The proposed 2015 budget includes $39.45 million to replace or reline up to 32 miles of sewer pipes, Korban said. This level of commitment will keep the city on pace to meet its goal of replacing or relining all sewers within 80 years or so, he said.

By contrast, it will take the city until 2020 to work up to replacing 20 miles of water mains each year to meet a goal of replacing those pipes within 100 years of use. A 20-miles-per-year pace by 2020 is required under a state Public Service Commission water rate case decision this month.

Some information in this news piece was originally reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. ?

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