Plans move forward to raise rail bridge on Lake Wissota

·3 min read

Mar. 10—CHIPPEWA FALLS — On a typical summer day, there is about 30 inches of space between the lake level and the CN Railroad bridge on Lake Wissota. Most boats can't clear that gap underneath the bridge.

That soon could change, as a plan is moving forward to raise the rail bridge by 18 inches, allowing more speed boats and pontoons to get underneath. It would make it far easier for boats to move from the big lake and little lake.

Rob Brown, owner of the View tavern, has wondered for years about if it would be possible to raise the bridge. Out of pure happenstance, a CN railroad worker ate lunch at his restaurant, and they got to talking about the idea.

"He got me in touch with the right people, and got me quotes," Brown said. "Eighteen inches may not sound like a lot, but it's a big deal."

It turns out that the rail bridge — running adjacent to Highway X — is actually in a dip, and it wouldn't take as much work or cost nearly as much as originally thought, to raise it. This is not a case where the rail tracks would have to be replaced in a mile or so in each direction to make it possible to have a higher bridge. The railroad has given an estimate of $286,000 to do the work.

"It's a much cheaper project than anyone ever thought," Brown said. "This would be good for the whole lake. It will open it up for the whole community. You won't be confined to one side or the other."

Dave Staber, town of Lafayette chairman, said CN Railroad wants a government entity involved in the process. The town board discussed the measure on Monday, and will have another meeting on the plans on Monday, March 21, where they could approve a contract with the railroad.

"This would have to be done through fundraising," Staber said. "No one seems to think that is not an insurmountable task."

If the money is raised, Staber said the work could be done in the fall. However, that money must be raised through private donations.

At Monday's meeting, Staber said about 40 people attended and all but one was in favor of having the bridge raised.

"They want access to both sides," Staber said. "No big speed boats can get through there. It's a good project, and should be done."

The 184-foot-long bridge was constructed in 1912 but is still in great shape, passing a recent inspection, Staber added.

"There are no plans for CN to replace or raise their bridge on their part," Staber said.

Staber made clear that while the town of Lafayette is involved in the negotiations with CN Railroad, the town will not be raising money or setting up an account for any cash raised.

Staber estimates that 12 trains daily travel through that rail corridor.

Brown is optimistic the plan will move forward.

"I think it's a good chance," he said. "There is still a few hoops to jump through."

Brown said he is working with some government agencies about being the organization in charge of managing the money raised.

"I don't think it would be hard to raise that money," Brown said. "You have a lot of people on the lake who want more access."

Brown encouraged people to attend the March 21 meeting to show support for the project. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the Lafayette Town Hall, 5765 197th St.