Tuesday, September 25, 2018 A national model in economic and environmental sustainability

Valley Passage


The Valley Passage, which re-establishes a historic connection from Milwaukee’s south side to the Menomonee Valley, was constructed through a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), the City of Milwaukee, Menomonee Valley Partners (MVP), and Urban Ecology Center (UEC).  The connection will serve as a trail head for the Hank Aaron State Trail, offers residents walk-to-work opportunities to thousands of jobs in the Menomonee Valley, and provides access to recreation amenities and natural resources along the Menomonee River.

The Valley Passage was constructed at the same location where generations of workers made their way from the south side to the Menomonee Valley. For decades, workers streamed through a tunnel beneath the railroad tracks and across a pedestrian bridge over the Menomonee River on their way to jobs in the Menomonee Valley.  When industry left, the bridge was torn down and the Valley disconnected from the surrounding community.  The Valley Passage, which includes a bike/pedestrian bridge over the Menomonee River, a railroad underpass, and a path up to 37th and Pierce Streets, restores that historic connection, making the Valley’s employment and recreation opportunities accessible to residents throughout the region.

Construction of the Valley Passage began on May 18, 2010, and it was opened to the public on November 8, 2010.  See some before and after images of the process here.


The project incorporated many innovative techniques to restore the riverbank, manage stormwater, and create improved habitat.  Stormwater controls addressed surface runoff previously unmanaged and untreated along a 1400 linear foot section where runoff from 2.9 acres of impervious surface ran directly down the degraded riverbank.  The project included construction of rain gardens, slope interceptors, vegetative buffers and bank protection to stabilize the riverbank and improve water quality in the Menomonee River.

With the goals of structural integrity and improving ecology, the project uses composting berms instead of a silt fence for erosion control. Unlike a silt fence, berms can be vegetated to provide habitat and never need to be removed (an act that can erode soils).

The Valley Passage is now part of the Hank Aaron State Trail, connecting the current Trail, which runs from Lakeshore State Park to Miller Park, to the Trail’s western extension, which runs through the VA Grounds and State Fair Park to 94th Place and will eventually meet the Oak Leaf Trail in Underwood Creek Parkway at the Milwaukee / Waukesha County line.   The Trail now connects 415,000 residents to employment and recreation opportunities in the Menomonee Valley and beyond.

WisDOT led the design and construction of the Valley Passage and Trail extension.   WisDOT, WDNR, the City and MVP worked together to secure federal funds that covered more than 80% of the project.  WDNR supplied the funding through the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program and operates the connection as the Hank Aaron State Trail.  The City of Milwaukee maintains the Trail lighting, bridge, and retaining walls.   In order to make the connection and the Trail extension, property was acquired by the WDNR.   The property transactions involved an eight-party agreement between public agencies, CP Rail and the Milwaukee Brewers, as well as a contribution through CSA Commercial who purchased the building east of the Valley Passage and donated the land necessary to contract the Valley Passage. 

Design and engineering was led by Alfred Benesch & Company.  Design team members included Benesch, EMCS, HGA Architects & Engineers, The Sigma Group, GESTRA, and Marek Landscaping.  Zenith Tech was the construction manager, and construction oversight was provided by The Sigma Group and Rivet LLC.

In March of 2012, Valley Passage was awarded the Brewers Community Foundation Public Space Award for the creation or use of public space contributing significantly to the overall community wellbeing.

The Valley Passage reconnects the Menomonee Valley with Milwaukee's south side.
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