TOWN OF LAFAYETTE — Over the years, David Staber, who has worked as the Lafayette Town Chairman for 32 years, said he and the Canadian National railroad have withstood several battles. Now Staber, local business owners and CN Rail are working together to raise the Lake Wissota Railroad Bridge.
CN Rail has a 20,000-mile network which spans Canada and Mid-America. But Staber is only concerned about a very small portion of their rail system, which runs beside County Highway X through the town of Lafayette in Chippewa County.
The Lake Wissota Railroad Bridge crosses Lake Wissota, and it effectively cuts off boat traffic from the small lake to the big lake; the bridge sits too low for most boats to make it underneath.
This means that people who want to take speed boats or pontoons out for water sports on the big lake, but want to hit the restaurants and bars on the small lake, have to dock their boats and drive, or walk around to the other side of the bridge.
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“All this time we’ve been trying to get that bridge raised up to allow boats to get underneath it, we were told that for every six inches you raise the bridge, you have to raise the railroad tracks one mile in each direction,” Staber said. “Come to find out that was not correct. Because the bridge is actually in a dip — it’s not even with the rest of the grater on both sides of it. Once we knew that, we had somewhere to go. So we worked out an agreement with the railroad last year.”
The Lafayette town board voted in April 2022 to enter into a contract with CN Rail to lift the bridge by 18 inches, which will allow boaters passage underneath. This project, once complete, will make the rail bridge roughly the same height as the County Highway X bridge which sits just beside the Lake Wissota Railroad Bridge.
Town officials agreed to be financially responsible for raising the bridge — the town has been collecting donations for the project.
But first, those involved in the project need to finish fundraising.
“We have to pay for it. CN Rail will raise that bridge but our cost would be approximately $286,000,” Staber said. “They wouldn’t do it on their own. But if we paid for the labor to get it done, we could make that happen and they’d be responsible for the tracks on both sides of it. That’s what was established and agreed upon.”
Right now the town has $218,000 raised to fund the project, Staber said. Donors have given the town anywhere from $50 to $30,000 donations to make it happen.
The construction will, Staber said, hopefully be completed this summer, assuming that donations continue to come in.
CN Rail is ready to begin construction as soon as the town cuts them a check.
How it began
Rob Brown has owned The View, a bar and grill on the small lake, for about 10 years. He’s been a driving force behind this initiative.
“Within the first couple of years, I noticed the problem. Eight or nine years ago, I started trying to reach the railroad to talk about how this can happen and was never able to get through to anybody that could answer my questions or get the ball rolling,” Brown said. “Two years ago I got lucky and a guy that works for that railroad stepped into the bar one day for lunch. I got talking with him and got his contact information, asking him if he could help me get in touch with the right people.”
The man did help. He went to work on it and eventually got back to Brown.
“I just figured it’s gonna be another closed door. Six months later, I get a phone call from him and an email and he says he’s got a quote together and it’s all approved. All we needed was the money,” he said. “And off we went.”
Brown made it his mission to get in touch with local business owners. He organized a big meeting for other lakefront businesses where he explained that though everybody had thought this idea was not possible for the longest time, it was actually feasible.
“I recruited the other bars and restaurants on the lake to try to help me raise this money. So I’ve just had, you know, everybody helping me try to get this money raised,” Brown said.
Brown said he doesn’t necessarily think that the bridge raising will bring in more customers. But he still feels like it’s important to give locals access to both sides of the lake.
“It’ll just make everybody able to enjoy the whole lake. I mean, you know, whenever I go boating with friends, it sucks if you’re stuck on one side of the lake and you want to get to another tavern and you can’t get there,” he said. “It’ll just let people get to where they want to get and that’s what’s the important part. It opens up transportation.”
If anyone wants to donate to the bridge raising fund, checks can be made out to ‘Town of Lafayette bridge fund’ and dropped off at the town hall at 5765 197th St, Chippewa Falls, WI 54729.
There is also GoFundMe for the project.