It’s simple math.
Tearing down the Cobban Bridge would cost Chippewa County $1.5 million. Tearing it down and replacing it with a new bridge between Jim Falls and Cornell would cost the county about $3 million of an $8 million project, provided the state comes up with funding.
The Chippewa County Highway Committee on Tuesday split, 3-2, to go with tearing down the current historic bridge and building a new bridge on the same spot.
That recommendation now goes to the 15-member Chippewa County Board to vote on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
If a bridge gets built, it likely will not be until 2021.
Kelley said said the best case scenario is that the state would pay up to $5 million for the project. “Our share would be about $3 million,” he said.
Voting in favor of a new bridge at the same site were Supervisors Glen Sikorski, Buck Steele and Matt Hartman. Voting against were Chuck Hull and Steve Gerrish.
Gerrish favored a more southern route the board endorsed last year. The cost of that option soared after the board gave its backing. Highway department administrators then recommended going with a new bridge on the current site to cut costs.
But Gerrish opposed that. “It’s a bridge to nowhere for most county taxpayers,” he said of using the current site.
Hartman said that could be said of any bridge. Gerrish agreed, but said most bridges don’t cost $8 million.
“I say, build it in the right spot or don’t build it at all,” Gerrish said.
Steele wanted assurances the project’s cost would not rise, as they have done over the past year. “When are we going to lock this in?” he asked.
Project Engineer Fred Anderson said the costs become fixed when the county accepts bids for construction.
Anderson reviewed a history of the bridge, including when it was rehabilitated in 1995. “We’re kind of riding those repairs for quite a ways,” Anderson said.
Funding was approved for the county for preliminary engineering on the bridge on Jan. 13, 2009, and the project has dragged on since.
The county inspects the bridge. Out of that inspection, the state assigns a numerical rating on whether is is safe.
Anderson said the county inspected the bridge last week and the results were about the same as the inspection in October 2016. That’s when the state gave the bridge a 2.5 rating, compared to the much better 31.1 rating after a June 2016 inspection. The state says the bridge is structurally deficient, and the bridge’s superstructure as being in “serious” condition.
The state’s description of a 2.5 rating is “critical.” A 1 rating is classified as “imminent failure.”
Anderson said at an informational meeting last week that was attended by 62 people, the feeling about the bridge was mixed. In the time since, he said the department received 11 written or emailed comments, with six saying the county needed to have a bridge and five not wanting a new bridge.
The current bridge was erected crossing the Yellow River in the town of Anson in 1908, and was later moved to its current location because of the creation of Lake Wissota.