By Trent Tetzlaff
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Steven Krueger said he often finds himself turning his car around and heading back to Lake Street to take a detour to upper campus after forgetting about the Water Street bridge construction.
Krueger is just one of many students the Water Street bridge project has affected since it first began this past September.
Krueger, who lives just off First Avenue, said the bridge construction causes him to take a detour almost every time he wants to drive somewhere.
“I have to take the Lake Street bridge every time I want to go to upper campus, or even McPhee,” Krueger said. “It’s just a longer more inconvenient route right now.”
The bridge detour affects the daily driving route of nearly 15,000 vehicles per day, project manager Tara Weiss said.
The $7.1 million project, which began Sept. 8 last year, is scheduled to end by Sept. 1 this fall, a timeline Weiss said is easily attainable.
“We had very good weather even into December, so the crews were able to get a lot of work done under good conditions,” Weiss said. “That has really helped us make up time for unseen things in the process, such as having to remove old steel on the bridge.”
Crews completed the demolition of the 78-year-old bridge before the worst of the cold set in, which allowed the workers to get going on the construction of the new bridge, Weiss said.
Weiss said some cold snaps had crews working through snow to put in the land and water piers. She said this would have been difficult in normal Wisconsin winter conditions.
Despite the route changing pedestrians’ daily travel, she said the city received a lot of public input about what was needed in a new bridge and is trying to meet public needs with the project rather than mess with the local community’s travel routine.
“With this project we got a lot of public input and we focused on that,” Weiss said.
It was difficult to meet the needs of everyone, Weiss said, but they tried to design for the best outcome possible.
Weiss said the new bridge will be a safer structure than the old one and will offer many new features that will help traffic flow better, create sightseeing opportunities and give bikers and walkers a safer space.
The new 700-foot bridge’s features include a wider bridge by 20 feet with three lanes and an extended five-foot bike lane, raised railings and eight-foot raised sidewalks to ensure safety for walkers.
The construction plans also include aesthetic features such as outlook spots on either side of the bridge, along with decorative railings and lighting, Weiss said.
The finished product, Weiss said, is something that will do a lot for the city and university when it comes to safety and its looks.
“It will be a new, fully functioning, safe, low-maintenance structure that has an aesthetic value that continues some of the themes throughout the city,” Weiss said.
Although the project still has six more months of construction to go, Krueger said he’s already anxious to have the bridge back and fully operational once again.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’ll be nice to use the bike path again and it’ll just be nice to be able to use the Water Street bridge and save time, instead of having to go around.”