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Representatives from Sauk and Dane Counties and the state of Wisconsin gathered July 23 in Sauk City July 23 celebrate their common goal of constructing a bicycle/pedestrian bridge across the Wisconsin River.

A $80,000 feasibility study was approved by the Great Sauk Trail Commission July 10 to determine what work would need to be done to make a 500-foot bridge spanning the river possible. The feasibility study is being conducted by MSA Professional Services of Baraboo in partnership with Westbrook Associated Engineering of Spring Green.

“The goal of this project is to ultimately deliver a world-class trail experience and identify the bridge and connecting trail systems as an international recreational destination,” Great Sauk State Trail Chairman Marty Krueger said in a statement.

The proposed location of the bridge is the former site of a 100-year-old Sauk City rail bridge, which was demolished in 2018 following years of disuse. Portions of the rail bridge still exist, but no longer span the river.

“This project is important to our area’s quality of life but is much more than a recreational project,” Krueger said. “This is a regional economic development and tourism economy initiative.”

Krueger, who also is a Sauk County Board supervisor, was joined at the event by state Assembly Rep. Dave Considine, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Sauk County Chairman Peter Vedro, Sauk City Village President Jim Anderson, Prairie du Sac Village Administrator Alan Wildman, Gateway to the Driftless President Christopher Long, and representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources, state Sen. John Erpenbach’s office, and others.

The bridge is the next step in a years-long project of extending existing trails and establishing new ones in the area with the ultimate goal of linking miles of recreational trail together for bicycling, walking and other activities.

The 13-mile multi-use Great Sauk State Trail connects the Sauk Prairie communities to Sauk Prairie State Recreation Area. In Dane County, Walking Iron Trail near the village of Mazomanie is planned to develop a combination of rails-to-trail conversion with shared trail-rail use of state-owned land under long-term lease.

Vedro said he saw the bridge as a “recognition of an interdependent reality” for the area.

“This is for us one of the most critical factors,” Vedro said. “It is a metaphor… for what we can do when we collaborate together in the best interests of the people.”

Parisi said recreational trails are the most requested development in Dane County.

“They also add to the vitality of our communities, they add to the quality of life that is so important,” Parisi said.

Parisi said amenities like accessible and high-quality recreational trails help make the Madison area competitive in recruiting professional talent from across the country, and convincing people to move.

If the rail commission and counties agree to pursue development of the project and funding is available, the preferred preliminary design alternative will be utilized as the basis to prepare an environmental report, regulatory permits and construction documents under a separate request for proposals in the future.

“It’s not Sauk County’s bridge or Dane County’s bridge or my bridge, it’s your bridge,” Krueger said. “It’s the way government should work.”

An update on the feasibility study will be given July 24 by MSA at the Prairie du Sac Village Hall.

Two public input sessions, one in Sauk County and one in Dane County, are planned for October.

Officials encouraged anyone interested in following the Wisconsin River Recreation Bridge’s developments to like the page named after it on Facebook.

A final report from MSA is due by Dec. 31.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl or contact him at 608-697-6353

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