CHIPPEWA FALLS — While Chippewa County officials wish the state had provided more funding to help tear down and replace the 110-year-old Cobban Bridge, they expect the county will move forward and complete the project.
In May, the state Department of Transportation announced it had awarded $4.7 million in state bridge funds to the project. However, the present estimate to raze and rebuild the bridge is $6.8 million, meaning the county must come up with about $2.1 million.
The county’s Highway Committee will hear an update on the Cobban Bridge project at its Wednesday meeting. The bridge is halfway between Jim Falls and Cornell. Last August, it was closed indefinitely after it failed inspections; it isn’t expected to reopen.
Highway commissioner Brian Kelley said the bridge project is currently on the schedule for 2021 construction. The new structure would be approximately 26 feet wide with a length of 500 feet.
“We’re updating the committee on the latest costs,” Kelley said. “Our staff is excited to build a bridge like that.”
County Supervisor Tom Thornton of Stanley, who is vice chairman of the Highway Committee, was disappointed in the level of state dollars. However, he met with county Administrator Randy Scholz and finance director Melissa Roach, and they feel confident they can come up with the rest of the money, likely through a borrowing package, Thornton said.
The county had considered moving it a quarter-mile south, but that option turned out to be too expensive. In recent years, only about 250 vehicles crossed the bridge daily, but Thornton said it needs to be replaced despite the high cost to the county.
“That’s the question that was raised when we decided to move it back to its original location,” Thornton said. “In my mind, there’s got to be a bridge somewhere.”
Kelley said that if the county opted not to come up with the $2 million to replace the bridge, the county would still have to pay $1 million to tear it down — and would likely not be eligible for state funding for demolition — plus the county would have to repay the state about $440,000 spent in engineering and design costs.
Thornton noted that at some point in the future, the bridges over the Chippewa River in Cornell and Jim Falls will need to be renovated or replaced and it will be valuable to have Cobban Bridge available as a shorter detour.
“In that standpoint, the bridge is necessary,” Thornton said. “And the old bridge has to come down anyway. That’s $1.5 million right there. As far as I’m concerned, it’s full speed ahead.”
County Supervisor Matt Hartman of rural Bloomer is a former Highway Department employee and a member of the Highway Committee. He agrees with Thornton that the county needs to go ahead and pay for the bridge, even though it will cost more than hoped.
“I wish the state had done an 80-20 split, like they usually do,” Hartman said. He added that the state wound up only providing 69 percent of the cost, leaving the county with 31 percent.
“The people up there have been very patient,” Hartman said. “I think a bridge should go back in there.”
The 484-foot-long Cobban Bridge, built in 1908, is a single-lane, steel Pennsylvania truss bridge and is considered a fracture critical structure. The county reduced the weight limit on the bridge in 2007 from 10 tons to 6 tons, preventing school buses and fire trucks from using it, in an effort to extend its useful life.
In other news, the Highway Committee will also hear an update about the demolition of the bridge that crosses Paint Creek on the east side of Little Lake Wissota. The bridge should be gone by early July and replaced next summer.