Tuesday's ribbon-cutting on the Drexel Avenue bridge in Oak Creek was a day seven years in the making.
It was back in 2005 when officials started discussions on a new interchange at Drexel Avenue. It took several more years of meetings and approvals until a deal could be struck and construction started on the first new interchange in southeastern Wisconsin since Interstate 94 was built.
All of that work culminated Tuesday, as officials celebrated the reopening of Drexel Avenue between 13th and 27th streets and the new Drexel Interchange.
"This is a big deal for us," Mayor Steve Scaffidi said.
The interchange likely won't open until early next week, Scaffidi said. Drexel Avenue was expected to reopen later Tuesday. It's now a four-lane, divided boulevard with improved street lighting and accommodations for bicyclists.
With construction reaching the end point, the hope is that economic development will follow.
Northwestern Mutual recently swapped lands with Milwaukee County for future development opportunities on the west side of the interchange. In fact, land is undeveloped on three of the four corners of the interchange.
Oak Creek officials believe the interchange will greatly enhance their efforts to redevelop the former Delphi site, on the corner of Drexel and Howell avenues, into a new town center.
Many have pointed to 27th Street as another area that will benefit from the interchange.
"This is how our transportation system becomes an important part of how we grow jobs and create a vibrant economy in our state," state Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said. "It gets people to and from work, it gets manufactured goods and raw products to and from their markets, and here on I-94, it gets tourists to and from their destinations here in southeastern Wisconsin and elsewhere in the state."
In a nod to the area's heritage, a pair of apples adorn the bridge overlooking Interstate 94. A beaming state Rep. Mark Honadel, whose family owned one of the apple orchards that once occupied the area, said it was a point of pride.
"Those apples, they do mean a hell of a lot to me," he said. "That's our family history."
Honadel fought for the interchange throughout the years, and in remarks Tuesday paid tribute to former Democratic state Sen. Jeff Plale, now the state's railroad commissioner. Honadel said he and Plale worked together to get the project through a myriad of local and state government approvals.
"I've been waiting to stand here and do this since June of 2006," Honadel said.
It took several government bodies and some tense meetings before a deal was reached in the spring of 2010. The state paid 50 percent of the total cost (roughly $12.9 million), with Oak Creek contributing about $3.75 million, Northwestern Mutual $1.6 million and the city of Franklin $500,000.
"This is really great for both communities," Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor said. "Oak Creek, Franklin and our partners to the south are really the new economic development engine for Wisconsin."