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Posted: November 3, 2014 Water St. bridge design unveiled, timetable offered

By Blythe Wachter Leader-Telegram staff Leader-Telegram


Water Street bridge is falling down, and Lisa Aspenson already is talking about a party to mark its demise next fall.

“It needs to be done,” Aspenson said of replacing the aging bridge. She doesn’t feel safe riding her bike or walking across the existing structure because of its low railings and sidewalks raised above street level.

But Aspenson, who owns Mona Lisa’s Ristorante on Water Street and serves on the Water Street Business District board, knows traffic rerouting will be hard on businesses. She’s thinking about ways to promote the area, such as the bridge-falling-down party and an “all roads lead to Water Street” campaign.

She wondered how long the project will last.

Construction will take about a year, said Tara Weiss, project manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Northwest Region, which unveiled the final design plan at a public meeting Thursday in UW-Eau Claire’s Haas Fine Arts Center on Water Street.

The project is expected to begin in fall 2015 and be completed in August 2016, Weiss said. The project will be bid next July.

Water Street will be closed at the bridge during construction, with a detour in place to provide access to businesses and the university.

Susan Harrison, UW-Eau Claire emeritus faculty, came to the meeting in her role as coordinator of UW-Eau Claire’s yearlong centennial celebration, which launches in May 2016. She wanted to make sure the bridge would be finished before the big homecoming celebration that fall.

The existing bridge, which stretches nearly 700 feet across the Chippewa River, was built in 1947 and has become structurally deficient.

“This would be about the typical life cycle of the bridge,” Weiss said.

Replacement will cost an estimated $6.76 million, mostly covered by WisDOT. The city of Eau Claire will pay $205,000 for city-owned utilities.

On average, about 15,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily, which is a “fairly high volume,” Weiss said.

“I think it’s going to be a good thing for student safety,” Nina Brobst, who lives on Summit Avenue next to the bridge, said of the replacement.

The new bridge will have two through lanes and a turn lane. It will be built 20 feet wider and feature aesthetic enhancements such as decorative lighting, rails and masonry and two outlooks.

Pedestrians and bikers will be able to travel on both sides of the bridge. There will be two 8-foot-wide sidewalks and two 6-foot-wide bikeways.

People expressed the desire for accommodations for walkers and bikers at previous public meetings, Weiss said.

To make them safer, railings on the new bridge will be higher.

Avid biker Roger Pope, who lives in the East Side Hill neighborhood, said the proposed accommodations are “very much needed.”

He does wish the bridge would include “some token separation of bicycles from cars,” such as bumps in the road to alert drivers of riders, he said.

Also, a bike-pet trail will be added that connects First Avenue at the bridge corner by the Owen Park tennis courts to the existing Chippewa River State Trail, Weiss said.


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