CHIPPEWA FALLS — A bridge in the town of Lafayette suffered a major crack on Sunday, and it is closed indefinitely.
The bridge crosses Paint Creek by 195th and 197th streets.
“There was a partial collapse on the west side of the bridge (Sunday),” said town Chairman David Staber.
A man driving over the bridge immediately knew something was wrong and called the town’s highway supervisor.
“He said it made a strange noise when he crossed it,” Staber said. “They looked underneath and saw the problem. The corrosion has accelerated. They immediately put up barricades. That bridge has had a weight restriction (of 18 tons) for years. It was slated to be replaced this year, but it was pushed back to 2021.”
Staber said the bridge is approximately 60 feet long, and it is about 40 years old. It handles 600 to 700 vehicles daily, typically local traffic. With it closed, a detour is about three miles. The bridge is entirely closed to vehicles and pedestrians.
Staber is doubtful the bridge will be able to open again, saying replacement is really the best option.
“We are meeting with engineers (today) or Tuesday to see what can be done,” Staber said. “If you look at pictures of the bridge, there is definitely a bow to it.”
Chippewa County highway supervisor Brian Kelley was at the scene Sunday. He believes a vehicle with a heavy load, above the posted weight limit, might have crossed it. He said a pile — a steel beam that extends from the bridge down into the water below — has been pushed further into the ground.
“We don’t know exactly what happened to make it sink down like that,” Kelley said. “There is something majorly wrong at the water line. I don’t think there is any way to lift the bridge back up and make it safe.”
Kelley added algae has slowly deteriorated the steel pile for years.
When the town first had a cost replacement study done, the bridge was estimated at $1.1 million. However, Staber said the project grew to $1.7 million, and the state Department of Transportation said it didn’t have money to do the project at this time.
“I’m not sure where the funding will come from, but we can’t wait three years to re-open that road,” Staber said.
Kelley agreed, saying he’ll begin working with state officials on funding options “right away.”
Adding to the complications, Xcel Energy has a four-inch pipe natural gas line on that bridge. Staber said Xcel officials were at the site, shutting off the line. He said no leaks occurred.