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Merrimac bridge repairs to cost $7.6 million

Bridge repairs to cost $7.6 million

Repairs and replacements to the Merrimac railroad bridge are expected to cost at least $7.6 million, a state official says.

Repairing or replacing parts of the Merrimac bridge to ensure future railroad service through Sauk County is estimated to cost at least $7.6 million, a state official says.

The source of those funds has yet to be determined, but would likely include mainly state government and railroad money.

“But again, it’s too early to tell what work will be done, when it needs to be done, and what source of funds will be used,” Wisconsin Department of Transportation Railroads and Harbors Section Chief David Simon said.

In a letter to Sauk County Board Chair Marty Krueger, DOT Secretary Mark Gottlieb said his agency recently completed a review that favored repair or replacement of major components of the Merrimac bridge.

Simon said the current estimate for that project is $7.6 million, although that could go higher depending on which repairs and replacements are selected. Typically, upgrades to a state-owned line such as the one that runs through Sauk County are funded by a Railroad Preservation grant.

The railroad — Wisconsin & Southern in this case — must apply for the grant. And the project is then funded with 80 percent state funds and 20 percent railroad funds.

Analysis completed

With the interest of ensuring rail service to Baraboo and Reedsburg continues, the DOT recently completed a cost-benefit analysis of alternatives involving the rail bridge in Merrimac and the separate, defunct line that runs through Sauk Prairie. The two tracks meet south of Baraboo before the adjoined line continues up through Baraboo and Reedsburg.

Based on that analysis, the DOT decided that the line currently in use over the Merrimac bridge was the best long term option. But the state said major components of the bridge will have to be repaired or replaced.

As part of its inquiry, the DOT contracted with the engineering firm Ayers Associates in September to refresh structural analysis the firm conducted in 2010 and 2014. Engineers identified structural upgrades that would extend the life of the service life of the bridge for 40 years.

However, the load capacity of the bridge would not be upgraded, as railroad representatives have previously requested.

A study done by Ayers Associates in 2010 determined that the bridge should be replaced if the railroad wants to increase traffic and haul heavier loads. The study said the bridge could continue to be used at its 2010 load capacity for another 25 years with an investment of $4.2 million, although railroad officials said that option was not desirable.

The most recent study compared the Merrimac bridge to the Sauk Prairie line from a cost perspective.

“Calculations showed that over a 40-year time horizon, the Merrimac Bridge route is substantially more cost effective than restoring rail service to the abandoned Sauk Line that runs through Sauk City, Prairie du Sac, and the now defunct Badger Army Ammunition Plant,” Gottlieb wrote in his letter to Krueger.

Even with a 105-year analysis that included the cost of replacing the bridge, the Merrimac route had the lowest life cycle cost, the DOT determined.

Future service ensured

Upgrades to the Merrimac bridge not only would ensure future rail service through Sauk County, but would allow progress on conversion of the Sauk Prairie line into a multi-use trail that will be known as the Great Sauk Trail.

“In consideration of the Department’s commitment to the Merrimac bridge route and the resulting obsolescence of the Sauk rail corridor, WisDOT will proceed with a plan to rail-bank the Sauk rail line by removing the railroad track and entering into an interim rails-to-trails agreement with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,” Gottlieb wrote. “The interim trail agreement will contain language that preserves the corridor as a federally rail-banked corridor until such time rail service is restored.”

During a meeting last month, Sauk County Board Chair Marty Krueger said the villages of Sauk City and Prairie du Sac each have committed $207,500 to the first segment of the trail. And the county board may consider a resolution later this month to pledge the same amount.

Krueger said a fundraising group known as the Friends of the Great Sauk Trail is “prepared not only to fill the gap in the funding for segment one, but intend(s) to go after raising enough money to actually see the project through Badger to Devil’s Lake.”

Simon said the rail banking process — which includes removal of the track — can sometimes pay for itself with the scrap value of the steel rails.

“In other words, a contractor may choose to bid the project at zero dollars because (they) can get paid by selling the steel rails,” Simon said. “This is yet to be determined as well.”

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Baraboo News Republic reporter

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