Cobban Bridge

The Cobban Bridge, located halfway between Jim Falls and Cornell, is shown in this July 2017 photo. The bridge was shut down in August 2017. It remains on schedule to be replaced in 2022.

CHIPPEWA FALLS — The century-old Cobban Bridge is free to anyone who wants it, and is willing to pay to move it.

The state’s Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that the bridge, which is slated to be replaced between 2022 and 2023, is available to anyone who wants to preserve the historic structure. Officials have estimated that tearing it down would cost between $1 million and $2 million. The bridge is located on the Chippewa River, half-way between Cornell and Jim Falls.

“Chippewa County, with the assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, is offering the historic Cobban Bridge free of charge for location,” a press release states. “The recipient must be willing to relocate the bridge from its current location on County TT over the Chippewa River between the towns of Eagle Point and Arthur and maintain its historic integrity at a new location.”

Any interested party, whether a private citizen, a nonprofit organization or another municipality, must submit a proposal to WisDOT and the State Historic Preservation Office for review. Proposals must be sent to WisDoT, 718 W. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire, 54701.

Brian Kelley, Chippewa County highway commissioner, said offering the bridge to the public was one of the mitigation efforts his office came up with.

“We’re hoping for someone with private funds to move it and preserve the historic structure,” Kelley said. “We don’t know (the cost), that’s why we put it out there. Perhaps someone who is tailored to this sort of work can tell us. We’re anxious to see what people can come up with.”

This actually wouldn’t be the first time the Cobban Bridge is moved.

When it was built in 1908, it crossed the Yellow River in the town of Anson. It was moved to its current location sometime between 1917 and 1919.

The 484-foot-long bridge is a single-lane, steel “Pennsylvania Truss” bridge. However, it is now considered “fracture critical.” The county reduced the weight limit on the bridge in 2007 from 10 tons to 6 tons, meaning that vehicles like school buses and fire trucks could no longer use it. However, as the bridge continued to decay, the county Highway Department closed it in August 2017, placing barriers in front of it, to stop vehicles from illegally crossing it.

The bridge wasn’t used frequently; the last traffic count study in 2006 showed only 240 vehicles crossed it daily. However, proponents of constructing a new bridge said the replacement will be used far more often because it will be safer and open to all types of vehicles. The new bridge is designed as 30 feet across, with 11-foot lanes and room for bike and pedestrian lanes.

Proponents of the new bridge also have pointed out that going to the nearest bridge, either in Cornell or Jim Falls, is an 11-mile detour.

The new bridge design has been finalized and approved by the state, Kelley said.

The Chippewa County Board last had an update on replacing the bridge at its November 2019 board, where highway workers said bids will be let this fall or winter, with the goal of beginning construction in summer or fall 2022, with it completed in spring or summer 2023.

“We’re right on schedule of where we need to be,” Kelley 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.

Board member Glen Sikorski previously 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.