The Merrimac Bridge will receive upgrades in the final phase of its rehabilitation project with the help of a $6.75 million federal grant to extend the life of the Sauk County railroad.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced in a June 19 press release on its website it received the grant to complete the upgrades. The grant was made under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program and will cover about half the cost of the remaining work to upgrade much of the existing rail bridge over the Wisconsin River, which will extend its life and increase its capacity.
“The Merrimac Bridge project had to compete with many others nationwide for this funding. We appreciate the efforts of Senator Tammy Baldwin to help secure these federal dollars for our state,” Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary-designee Craig Thompson said in the news release. “Along with helping us finish this important project, the INFRA grant will free up about $5.8 million in state freight rail bridge preservation funds for other bridge repairs.”
According to an email from Mae Knowles from the Department of Transportation Office of Public Affairs, Phase 3 of the project will consist of replacing 13 spans, replacing the bridge deck and repairing the masonry piers. Funding to complete the project will also be provided with $5 million from the Department of Transportation, $1.2 million from the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad and $487,500 from the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission.
Baldwin, D-Madison, said in an email statement sent to the Times-Press July 1 she was pleased to support the funding that will provide the upgrades to the aging bridge to increase the economic opportunity for the state.
“I was pleased to support this federal transportation funding that will provide much-needed upgrades for the Merrimac Bridge to grow our local economy in Sauk County and beyond,” Baldwin said. “This federal investment will fix and update our aging infrastructure in Wisconsin to enhance economic opportunity and development that will help move our state forward.”
According to the release, the project to rehabilitate the bridge will increase its carload capacity to 286,000 pounds at 25 mph and extend its life by 40 years. Work on the bridge is expected to begin in 2021 and is scheduled for completion in 2022.
“A previous proposal to completely replace the Merrimac Bridge had a much higher cost,” Thompson said. “Our current repair project will strengthen the bridge and extend its life while achieving significant cost savings. This demonstrates WisDOT’s commitment to prudent stewardship of the state’s taxpayer dollars.”
Wisconsin & Southern Railroad carries more than 3,600 carloads of freight, about 288,000 net tons, across the bridge to and from Sauk County every year. The bridge is a part of the Madison–Reedsburg line, which was acquired by the state in 2014 from Union Pacific Railroad.
The total cost of the project was estimated at $18 million after a thorough analyses of bridge engineering design alternatives and project costs were conducted in late 2015 and early 2016. In late 2016, the Department of Transportation approved a Freight Railroad Preservation Program Grant to rehabilitate the Merrimac Bridge to cover up to 80% of costs. Wisconsin & Southern Railroad committed to providing the remaining 20% funding needed.
Phase 1 of the project began in late 2017 and consisted of emergency repairs and design work while Phase 2 began in early 2020 and consists of replacement of individual deficient steel components, according to Knowles. The Department of Transportation is providing up to $2.6 million and Wisconsin and Southern Railroad is adding up to $666,580 for project funding in the second phase, according to Knowles.
The line is Sauk County’s only rail connection to the national freight rail system, and thus vital to businesses in Rock Springs, Baraboo and Reedsburg which rely upon it to economically ship raw materials and finished products.
“More than 170 million tons of freight move by rail in Wisconsin each year. Our rail system is vital to the economic health of our major industries, including manufacturing and agriculture. WisDOT is committed to improving the condition of this vital resource throughout Wisconsin,” Thompson said.
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