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Blackhawk Bridge closure causing economic woes for merchants
Hardie and Boddicker
CHRIS HARDIE, CEO with 7 Rivers Alliance talks with Andrew Boddicker, executive director of Main Street Lansing, before the beginning of the Bridge Closure Economic Impact meeting. Hardie, along with Driftless Development’s Jack Lee attended the meeting in Ferryville to survey local businesses and citizens about how the bridge closure is affecting them, and what kind of assistance may be needed.

FERRYVILLE - The closure of the Blackhawk Bridge over the Mississippi River that connects Iowa and Wisconsin is wreaking economic havoc on businesses in Lansing, Iowa and DeSoto and Ferryville, Wisconsin.

Chris Hardie from 7 Rivers Alliance and Mark Lee from Driftless Development collaborated to offer a meeting, where local citizens could talk about the economic impacts they are experiencing as a result of the bridge closure. The meeting was held at the Ferryville Community Center on Monday, March 18 with about 40 citizens participating.

“Tonight is meant to be a listening session so we can begin to understand the challenges being faced by your communities,” 7 Rivers Alliance CEO Chris Hardie told the group. “What happened to the bridge is like a natural disaster in the impact it is having.”

At the meeting, businesses from all three communities talked about the economic challenges they are facing.

“We’ve been closing Swede’s Swing Inn early, because we’re missing our usual business from Iowa,” Swede Knutson said. “I’d estimate that for the bar, and for Ferryville Cheese, my sales are down about 40 percent.’

The owner of Pork’s Bar in DeSoto estimated her sales shortfalls at 50 percent since the bridge was closed on February 25. 

“Our business usually draws people from Dubuque, Decorah, Waukon and Postville, and we haven’t been getting any of that business since the bridge was closed,” the Pork’s Bar owner said.

The owner of the Lansing Hardware store said that his sales too have been down about 50 percent since the bridge closed.

“Now that we have the water taxi going, let me know what you need, and I’ll meet you there,” he said.

Gloria, a trustee on the Ferryville Village Board, reported that she had attended a meeting in Lansing the previous week. She said there had been discussion of compensating businesses for their revenue shortfalls.

“We have a model for that kind of thing in place, following the COVID pandemic,” Hardie said. “So that would work, if we could find the funding – we haven’t identified what that would be yet.”

Hardie pointed out that on the Iowa side of the river, the businesses are concentrated in Lansing’s downtown area, but that on the Wisconsin side, the businesses are more spread out.

“This is the third year in a row businesses in Wisconsin have been impacted by some sort of disaster, be it road construction, a flood, or a train derailment.” Hardie said.

Val Reinke with Allamakee Economic Development & Tourism explained that because the bridge closure isn’t a natural disaster, that means that funding for economic damages is not easily available. For this reason, she encouraged Wisconsin businesses to work with 7 Rivers Alliance and Driftless Development.

“Maybe if relief funds are not available, there might be funding for marketing once the bridge is reopened,” Hardie said. “The funding could be used to let people know that it is reopened, and that the bridge is once again a safe, convenient option for travel between the two states.”

Sherry Quamme from Ferryville Vision and Promotion asked if the bridge would really be reopened by the end of April. She said that calls had been coming in about whether the Rummage Along the River event, scheduled for May 17-18, would go on as planned. She was assured that the plan is to have the bridge back open before then.

Wisconsin State Representative Loren Oldenburg asked if when the bridge is reopened, it will still have the same weight limits as it did before?

“At the meeting in Lansing last week, Iowa DOT’s Clayton Burke told people there that, when reopened, the bridge would still have the same weight limits,” Hardie responded.

There was discussion about where citizens could access information about the water taxi service, and they were told that the Iowa Department of Transportation Facebook page for the bridge project is the best place to look. There was agreement to make sure that information is also posted in other places such as village websites.

Extend van service

There were questions about extending the van service associated with the water taxi to Ferryville. The vans drop passengers off in Lansing on the Iowa side, and in DeSoto on the Wisconsin side, but there is no feasible way for water taxi travellers to access businesses in Ferryville at this time.

Another request was for the water taxi to add a stop at the Ferryville Boat Landing.

“There have been many calls from up and down the river for a transportation solution,” Hardie said. “We thought about trying to bring in a car ferry, but we had to select a water craft that could fit under the bridge near the boat landing.”

Reached after the meeting, Clayton Burke from Iowa Department of Transportation said that at this time, the van service will not be extended to Ferryville.

“It sounds like it has been considered, and, at this time, we do not have the resources or the time in the shuttle schedule to accommodate a round trip to Ferryville,” Burke wrote.

Reached on Monday, neither Chris Hardie nor Mark Lee had heard anything more about options to extend van service to Ferryville, but both said they continue to explore options.