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What’s with all that noise?

This was a question one community member posed during a public forum about a proposed bridge construction project Thursday night at Poynette High School.

Some area residents were concerned about loud construction equipment posing an issue for homeowners on the north and south shores of the Wisconsin River, where traffic crosses over a deteriorating Interstate 39/90/94 bridge.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Project Manager Robert Knorr spoke with community members about two proposals, in hopes of gathering feedback to be considered in an ongoing study.

One option is to repair the existing bridge — which has been repaired seven times since it was built in 1961.

The second option — which DOT officials prefer at this stage — is to build a new bridge on either the east or and west side of the existing six-lane bridge.

“It’s aging to the point where maintenance is becoming more costly and is putting more of a burden on traffic,” Knorr told the Daily Register.

He added that any project would likely mean partial lane closures for the duration of construction.

No cost estimate for a new bridge is available yet, but Knorr suggested an estimate might be made public this summer.

Construction would also not begin until 2024 at the earliest, he said.

The state Department of Transportation says steel beams are rusting and concrete is chipping off the existing bridge, which has various components rated in poor and severe conditions.

Although the study is in its early stages, Knorr didn’t rule out the idea of building two new four-lane bridge on either sides of the existing six-lane bridge.

Any new bridges would not be built past existing power lines on the west and east sides. Existing interchanges would also remain unaffected.

Part of the draw for more lanes would be to accommodate for an estimated 20 percent increase in traffic within the next few decades, Knorr said.

Knorr said a new bridge would have a life expectancy of 75 to 100 years.

“The bridge is going to long exceed most of our lifetimes, and we need to plan ahead in the future for that,” he said.

About 18 percent of all freight traffic in Wisconsin passes over the I-39/90/94 river bridge, Knorr said.

Ken Erdahl, who owns land on the south side of the bridge in the town of Dekorra, said he hopes the state will truly consider traffic increases and allow for more lanes to be built into new bridges.

“There’s so many people passing through, might as well make it safe for them,” Erdahl said.

He said this new proposal is better than other ideas presented in the past, and he appreciated that Knorr and other state officials held a forum to seek public input.

Community members also expressed skepticism of possible environmental impacts, such as debris falling into the river or truckloads of sand being left in the water. Some said previous projects weren’t properly cleaned up after and caused worse flooding as a result of excess sand restricting natural river currents.

Knorr suggested stone causeways in place of sand could be an option.

DOT Environmental Coordinator Jennifer Grimes told the Daily Register once an environmental study is complete by 2020, the department will know more specifics.

Grimes said the Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources will work together to minimize the environmental impact and coordinate mitigation and restoration efforts.

“Ideally, we’d like to leave it a little better than when we were there,” Grimes said. “It’s a neat river system.”

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Portage Daily Register public safety reporter

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