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Deteriorating bridges lead to lower weight restrictions
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The deteriorating state of some Crawford County bridges is increasingly causing problems for truck drivers and businesses depending on truck deliveries.

The county currently has 17 bridges that are rated structurally deficient and 22 that weight restrictions lowered a few to 10 tons or less. The northern portion of the county from Soldiers Grove to Ferryville probably has the most severe problems with reduced weight restrictions on bridges. That’s because there are numerous bridges involved and the weight restrictions tend to be lower.

“We’d like to get an unrestricted corridor open across the northern part of the county from Soldiers Grove to Ferryville,” Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pellock said of the current situation.

Currently, the only sure way to get to the river in the northern part of the county is to come south to Mt. Sterling and use the recently improved Highway 171.

Star Valley located at the intersection of County B and County C is a choke point for moving freight. A bridge just south of the intersection on County B has a weight restriction lowered to just 15 tons. Just to the west of the intersection another bridge on County C has a weight restriction lowered to 15 tons. Both bridges cross Conway Valley Creek.

County C has other bridges with lowered weight restrictions both to the east and west of Star Valley. In the Village of Soldiers Grove on its western edge, a County C bridge over Johnson Creek has its weight restriction reduced to 25 tons.

West of Highway 27 a few miles, a County C bridge has weight restriction reduced to 20 tons.

Work on local bridges is behind because a lack of federal and state funding has halted progress, according to Pellock. As a result, 15 percent of the county’s local bridges now have lowered weight restrictions and 12 percent are rated as “structurally deficient.” In addition to bridges on county roads, the local bridges also include township and village roads.

Bridges on state highways are another matter, but five of those are now rated structurally deficient, Pellock noted.

The local official noted a new federal highway bill has not been passed in years and the funding is being provided by three to six-month extensions of the old highway bill. The result seems to be increasingly the underfunding of bridge replacements.

Pellock said not too long ago, the county would submit the paperwork for 12 bridge replacements and the funding was granted for all 12. However, lately bridge replacement requests are only about half funded. If seven are requested, often only three will be funded.

The lack of funding has created a large list of structurally deficient bridges and the county is way behind schedule on its bridge work.

The extent of the problem is not lost on Congressman Ron Kind (D-LaCrosse).

“The passage of a long-term transportation bill is critical to building strong infrastructure and growing western Wisconsin’s economy,” Ron Kind explained. “A comprehensive transportation bill will create a win-win situation for the state by creating jobs in our local economies and fixing many of our roads and bridges, which are in dire need of repair. That’s why I’m working hard to pass a comprehensive bill as quickly as possible – we should be assured that our roads and bridges are safe, and we can create jobs in the process.”  

The bridge weight reductions are definitely causing problems. Brockway Trucking, located in Gays Mills, is spending more time and that means more money in fuel and wages trying to deliver gravel and agricultural lime this spring, Pellock acknowledged. Brockway is only one of a number of haulers dealing with the reduced weight restrictions on the bridges.

It’s a similar problem for those trying to ship or receive goods in the area. Earlier this spring, John Zehrer was waiting for farm equipment to be delivered to his Star Valley Flowers farm. The truck did not arrive and late in the afternoon a frustrated trucker called to say he was returning to Tomah because after three attempts he was unable to reach the farm because of lower weight restrictions on bridges. He said the equipment would be delivered the next day.

Another problem being created by lower weight restrictions is the increasing heavy traffic using township roads to get around those bridges. The township roads are typically not used by large trucks and usually are not designed to deal with that kind of traffic.

In Utica Township, truck traffic has taken to using Pine Knob Road to get to County C and avoid bridges in Star Valley. West of 27 in Freeman Township heavy truck traffic is being experienced on Smith Road as trucker try to avoid the 20-ton bridge on County C over Sugar Creek. Township chairpersons are airing their frustrations with Pellock, as well.

The county’s 146 local bridges are inspected every other year by Jewell and Associates, a contracted engineering firm. The 22 that are rated structurally deficient are inspected annually. To score as structurally deficient the bridges achieve scores under 50 on a scale of 100.

However, structurally deficient bridges are not necessarily given lower weight restrictions. Lowering weight restrictions is based on another rating of three elements—the piers; abutments and deck are each individually rated on a scale of 1 to 10. Ratings below five in any category lead to weight restrictions.

The county hopes to move forward on four bridges as soon as possible. Unable to get the two-thirds vote necessary from the county board to borrow the money, the county will use money from its general fund and highway department budget to pay for its $425,000 share of the projects.

One project that the county hopes to finish this season is work on the County C bridge over Sugar Creek. The county will not get assistance paying for the work, but most agree upgrading the bridge and increasing the weight limit restriction is crucial to establishing a connection to the west through the northern part of the county.

The county also will move on County C and County B bridges over Conway Valley Creek in Star Valley that now have 15-ton weight restrictions placed on them. Crawford County Highway Committee Chairperson Tom Cornford said the engineering will be done and bids let and the construction should occur in two years.

The county is also looking at the possibility of replacing a County S bridge over Hall’s Branch Creek, when an insurance settlement is made on damage caused to the bridge during an accident.

Cornford said the county may decide to replace the bridge or might fix the damage depending on the settlement and the condition of the bridge.

Another bridge scheduled for replacement this summer is located on a Freeman Township road leading to the Sugar Creek Bible Camp. The bridge now has an eight-ton limit, which presents a danger to providing fire protection.

In addition to disrupting the economy, the lower weight restrictions can affect delivery of fire protection services because water cannot be brought over the bridges to rural locations in tanker trucks.

Federal funding will pay 80 percent of the cost and the remaining 20 percent will be split between the township and the county for the Sugar Creek Bible Camp Road. The camp is also going to contribute something toward the project, according to Pellock.