The Bridges of Crawford County

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The above photo shows cracking on a bridge on County U in the town of Clayton. Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock told the county board that the walls of the bridge have moved in an inch. This is not one of the four to be worked on this year, but it is one of 17 that will need to be reconstructed in the coming years and illustrates the problem that the county is facing.

 

County to use reserves to 

pay for four bridge projects

By Ted Pennekamp

 

By a vote of 11-5, a motion to approve of borrowing $425,000 for bridge improvement projects failed at the Crawford County Board meeting Tuesday morning. Three quarters of the county supervisors elect was needed in order for the motion to pass. Thirteen votes out of the 17 elected supervisors was needed. Board member Phil Mueller was absent. The same motion failed at the Feb. 17 County Board meeting by a 12-4 vote. 

Before Tuesday’s vote, there was much discussion about the pros and cons of borrowing the money in order to reconstruct four defective bridges in the county or to pay for the projects half from the general fund and half from the Highway Department budget. The bridge projects have to be done because it’s a public safety issue.

Finance Committee Chairman Duane Rogers said that he would be comfortable with dipping into the general fund and the Highway Department budget in order to pay for the projects because the county’s general fund has gone from $2.33 million to $2.875 million in the last five years and should grow again. Rogers noted, however, that delving into the general fund could “raise some red flags” regarding the county’s credit rating and there would obviously be less money in the general fund if it were needed in the near future. Several board members agreed and noted that there are items such as a proposal regarding shared revenue in Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget which could negatively affect how much money the county would have for such projects in the future. Rogers also said he would be comfortable with borrowing the money.

Several other supervisors said that the county should pay for the projects with county money now and borrow for future bridge projects later.

Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock told the board that there will certainly be plenty of bridge reconstruction projects in the future. 

“We will be addressing bridges for a long time,” said Pelock, in noting that he is against spending down the county’s reserves. “We’re losing the battle. These bridges have been there a long time and they’re starting to fail.” 

Pelock stated that 22 of the 146 bridges on the local system, which are on county roads, and in towns, villages and the city of Prairie du Chien, have weight restrictions and that number has increased annually. Of the 22 bridges, 10 are on county trunk roads and 12 are on town and village roads. 

On the local system, there are 17 deficient bridges in need of replacement. That number is expected to increase to 22 bridges by 2017. This does not include the 20-plus small bridges under 20 feet in length throughout the county on the local system that are in need of replacement. 

It was noted at the county board meeting Tuesday morning that the Finance Committee and the Highway Committee can approve of taking $212,500 out of the general fund and the Highway Department budget respectively without approval of the county board. It appears that this or a similar proposal is imminent because the bridges simply have to be done and paid for somehow.

The total cost of the four bridge projects is $727,468. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is funding 80 percent of the construction costs for two of the bridges. Another bridge has a pending insurance claim of $182,082 which will help alleviate costs for that bridge. 

Pelock said that the highest priority among the four bridges is the bridge on County C in the town of Freeman over a branch of Sugar Creek.

The second priority bridge is on County S in the towns of Seneca and Haney over a branch of Halls Branch Creek. 

Other projects include the bridge on County B in the town of Utica over Conway Valley Creek and the bridge on County C in the village of Soldiers Grove over Johnson Creek.

Several more bridges will need to be reconstructed in the coming years.

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