A Bridge to Tomorrow?
By Lynn Kuhns, Photographs by Gordon Pagel
Waterfront Park and the new public docks are in jeopardy with bridge alternative #1.
The Other Place and The Fin ‘N’ Feather each lie directly in the path of at least one of the alternatives presented for the new bridge. Alternative 4, which would take out the Fin ‘N’ Feather, would also have a negative impact on the appeal of the waterfront property of Wolf River Resorts, though none of the resort’s buildings are in jeopardy.

Winneconne Bridge Alternatives

Bridge Plan 1

Bridge Plan 2

Bridge Plan 3

Bridge Plan 4

Bridge Plan 5

Bridge Plan 6

 

It’s the talk of Wolf River Country, and especially, of the Winneconne area. The Merrill T. White Bridge—also known as the Highway 116 Wolf River Bridge, or, just The Winneconne Bridge—is now more than 75 years old. With the recent collapse of a major highway bridge in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, officials across America started to look at bridges’ infrastructures and their deficiencies.

The existing bridge over the Wolf River in Winneconne is 44 feet wide. The new bridge—wherever it will be located—likely will be 63 feet wide. Plans are for it to accommodate two lanes of traffic, a sidewalk, a snowmobile path and a multi-purpose path. The Department of Transportation has reported that the Hwy. 116 Wolf River Bridge opens more frequently than any other bridge in the state, illustrating the fact that many people use the Wolf River.

The DNR has come aboard, expressing that, with the design and construction of any new or renovated bridge, the tradition of fishing will have to be maintained.

According to Steve Volkert, Village of Winneconne administrator, “We first startedworkingwiththeDO Tinthe fall of ’08. They came back in late spring of ’09, said they were now estimating 2015 to 2016 for this project to take place. They contacted us to help get the stakeholder group started.”

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin DOT hired CH2MHill of Milwaukee to conduct the study on this project, which would define and research the options. Their work included gathering input from local businesses, government entities and others affected by any change in its structure, location and functions.

A 28-member advisory Stakeholder Committee was formed, comprised of individuals who lead and represent the Winneconne Community School District, the fire department, the village’s Department of Public Works, area technical colleges, townships, East-Central Planning commission, the Winneconne Area Chamber of Commerce, property/business owners around the current bridge and others.

Volkert said the committee has met three times—first to explore what people want to get out of the bridge…and what is the desired end-result.

He said they came up with several proposals, including a bridge that would allow for taller boat traffic and access for several types of transportation and activities — including cars, snowmobiles, fishermen, bicycles and pedestrians. The committee also suggested that the new bridge should have little or no impact on existing businesses and meet both the existing and future needs of the village.

At a second meeting, the committee considered five design options—a new bridge at the existing site, a new one just north of the existing site, a new one just south, and two more, further north and south. Volkert said the committee later added a sixth option, to repair the existing bridge. That change was prompted by a letter from members of the Winneconne Historic Society, which seeks to preserve the historic elements of the bridge and its connection with the Wolf River.

At the third meeting, the group came up with 10 criteria and ranked them. From the five original options, they created 10—each a bridge with a movable span; the 11th option was to repair.

In May, about 80 people attended an open meeting hosted by CH2MHill. “It was very well organized. It gave many of the facts that people were looking for,” Volkert said.

“The questions from the public related to how much money it will cost and how much the village will have [to contribute]. There were different concerns from different people—residents and business owners, fishermen and others, but most questions related to how it was going to affect them personally.”

The Winneconne News reported that the general consensus was, “A new bridge, a high fixed one, could wipe out our town.” The article noted, “... property owners who could be affected are concerned and very cautious about the developments and their impact on them personally. However, the DOT tried to dispel concerns and remind people that those decisions are a very long way off.”

As of mid-August, more meetings hadn’t been firmly scheduled. Volkert said CH2MHill has communicated that in mid September, they will narrow down the options to three or four, and present them to the stakeholders; then to the general public at hearings near the end of 2010.

Volkert said, “Then we’ll take a closer look at those and how long the construction process will be, how much it will cost and who will be impacted.”

In several of the design options, a temporary bridge will have to be constructed. Volkert noted, “If that’s the case, it will probably be a fixed bridge without the opportunity for taller boats to get through. We’re talking— very possibly — about an entire summer, or possibly two. There are a lot of things that have to be considered, based on the opinion of the stakeholders group, the public and feedback from the DOT, related to cost and the availability of the project.” The consulting firm also asked the Winneconne Village Board for its recommendation. As Volkert explained, “That recommendation did not have any greater weight than that of the Stakeholder Committee; it was just different.” The village Department of Public Works made three recommendations, and the village board approved them. The board’s first option—favored about four to one—was to replace the existing bridge with a new movable span [draw] in the same location. In their opinion, it would maintain the identity of the village and have minimal disruption both on existing businesses and the flow of traffic.

The DOT’s extensive studies on the existing bridge show no danger of it collapsing. “It will probably be fine for 10 to 15 more years. They do feel it has performed well for more than 70 years and is reaching the end of its service life,” Volkert said.