The Chippewa County Board heard an update Tuesday on replacing the aging Cobban Bridge, located on the Chippewa River between Cornell and Jim Falls.
The county signed a contract last month with engineering firm AECOM for $426,000 for the final design of the new bridge, county project manager Fred Anderson said. Bids will be let roughly a year from now, he said.
The entire bridge replacement is expected to cost almost $6 million, with the state picking up 80% of the construction costs. Overall, the county will pay about $1.8 million in its share for the bridge replacement, between 20% of the construction costs and 100% of the design costs.
If the county were to abandon the replacement process now, the county would have to re-pay the state for its share already spent, so not moving forward would still cost the county about $1.54 million. So, the additional cost to move forward and construct the new bridge is about $283,000, Anderson said.
Anderson discussed the nearby bridges in Cornell and Jim Falls and determined that each was “in pretty good condition.”
No vote was taken Tuesday, but board members debated whether the bridge is necessary and if it should be replaced.
Board member Matt Hartman of the Tilden area noted the Cornell Bridge is already 20 years old, and it would be a bad idea to not have the Cobban Bridge in place and open whenever the Cornell Bridge is closed in the future.
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Hartman said it was a “no-brainer” to move forward with the Cobban Bridge project at this time.
However, board member Tom Thornton of Stanley was concerned about rising contingency costs.
He said it is worth discussing again whether the bridge is needed. He noted that emergency services haven’t been able to use the bridge for five years, and nearby residents have gotten used to the bridge not being available. Schools have new bus routes in place, he added.
“Every time we talk about the project, the price goes up,” Thornton said. “We’re having this discussion at the highway committee level about funding. We need several million dollars for roads and bridges that are falling apart.”
Board member Jason Bergeron, who represents the Jim Falls and Anson area, said the bridge is needed.
“Just because they got used to it, doesn’t mean it’s the best,” Bergeron said. “Replacing Cobban is the right thing to do.”
Cobban Bridge closed in August 2017. The bridge, which is only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, originally opened in 1908 in the town of Anson, where it crossed the Yellow River; it was placed in its current location between 1917 and 1919. Because of weight limits, larger vehicles hadn’t used it in the past decade, prior to its closure.
Board member Glen Sikorski said that if the county left the bridge in place, it will eventually collapse into the river, and the county will likely have a significant cleanup bill to remove it.