Saturday, August 18, 2018

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Future of Cobban Bridge is unclear

State DOT has designated $4.7 million for replacement 

  • mw-cobban-10a-071217

    The Cobban Bridge has been closed since August 2017. Funding from the state might allow the Chippewa County Highway Department to demolish and rebuild it.

    Staff file photo

The state Department of Transportation has designated $4.7 million in bridge funds toward replacing the Cobban Bridge, but county officials now must find a way to come up with more than $2 million to pay for the rest of the project.

According to the Chippewa County Highway Department, the original estimate to replace the bridge, which crosses the Chippewa River approximately halfway between Jim Falls and Cornell, was about $8.5 million. But the state now operates under a “replace in kind” policy that puts the cost estimate at about $6.8 million. Under the policy, projects are constructed to meet minimum design standards because they are utilizing state funding. 

County officials said typical funding in the State’s Local Bridge Program usually comprises 80 percent state funds and 20 percent local funds. As of right now, however, the $4.7 million state contribution means the county would pay the remaining $2.1 million, which is 31 percent of the total cost, 11 percent more than expected.

Approximately 300 vehicles per day traveled over the bridge prior to its closure.

Tom Thornton, vice chairman of the Chippewa County Highway Committee, said he’s disappointed the county isn’t receiving the amount officials anticipated. When the bridge shut down last August, the board voted to dedicate funds to solving the problem.

“The board fully supported removing and replacing the Cobban Bridge,” Thornton said, “but I think most of those votes were dependent on the 80 percent from the state and 20 percent local.”

With a recently collapsed bridge in Lafayette also on the docket for replacement — and progressing quickly — for the committee, Thornton said the bridge budget is going to suddenly be strained.

A few of the possible funding options for the Cobban Bridge include rearranging the budget to see where more money can be found, delaying the project until money can be set aside specifically for the project or borrowing for the bridge and paying it off over a longer period of time than previously expected.

“We might even have to see if the townships (on either side of the bridge) are willing to help out,” Thornton said.

He said there is no way to know for sure what will happen until the department meets to decide if replacing the bridge is worth the cost.

“This is going to require us to go back to the drawing board,” Thornton said.

Thornton said the numbers for demolition and reconstruction have already changed a couple of times, so the board might have to go back to reassess them to see if they can bring the estimates down.

The Highway Committee will meet to discuss funding options at its next meeting on June 27.


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