If you’ve ever come to Milwaukee, by car or boat or plane, you’ve undoubtedly seen the iconic yellow arch on the lakefront known as the Hoan Bridge. Considering I, and some 40,000 other cars, use the Hoan every single day, I couldn’t help but wonder about some of the backstory and details surrounding it.

The Hoan Bridge as seen from MMSD on Jones Island. All photos by Joe and Katie Powell.

The Hoan Bridge as seen from MMSD on Jones Island. All photos by Joe and Katie Powell.

Eventually named after Milwaukee’s Sewer-Socialist mayor Daniel Hoan, the Hoan Bridge began construction in 1970. The bridge didn’t officially open until 1977 due to political squabbles over the future of the downtown freeways, earning it the unfortunately Sarah-Palin-esque moniker “The Bridge to Nowhere”. Luckily, this unfinished bridge backdrop was the perfect setting for a chase scene between The Blues Brothers and the Illinois Nazis.


Warning: some foul language and slapstick comedy.

Today the Hoan is an expeditious route to or from the near south side via car. Unfortunately, the idea to add bike and walking lanes to the bridge was never materialized (though you can still run a marathon over it).


Or ride your bike along the bottom of it.

Likewise, a beautification effort that would’ve added (albeit, costly) LED lighting to the bridge was canned. This seemed like a no-brainer addition, as it would have guaranteed the Hoan to be a sight for visitors and locals alike. It seemed like every major city in the world lit up their iconic structures last week for Prince’s death; not us.

A view looking north-west from just over the bridge.

A view looking north-west from just over the bridge.

Unless you frequently use I-794 to head to Bay View, St Francis, or Cudahy, odds are most Milwaukeeans see the Hoan from the underside while attending Summerfest or visiting the Third Ward. While this view gives a neat perspective of the tied-arch bridge, I personally believe it’s the drive northbound that gives perhaps the best view of the city of Milwaukee.

The downtown skyline greeting you in the morning.

The downtown skyline greeting you in the morning.

The skyline of downtown Milwaukee rises to greet you over the apex of the bridge, seen as alternating glimpses through the yellow girders. To the right is the lake, in a varied palette of blue, stretching to infinity. To the left is the city, with steeples and smokestacks puncturing the sky between the bustling citizens on the street. It’s simultaneously a calming and an invigorating view, reminding me each and every morning how alive Milwaukee is. Next chance you get, take a scenic ride over the Hoan Bridge.