Wisconsin state lawmakers pushing for funding for Cassville bridge feasibility study

CASSVILLE, Wis. — Proponents of a new Mississippi River bridge crossing see opportunity in a proposed federal spending package that would pump more than $1.7 trillion into infrastructure.

To increase its chances of selection if Congress signs off on the plan, members of the Badger-Hawkeye Bridge Coalition are petitioning Wisconsin state lawmakers to appropriate funds to partially finance a $2 million feasibility study.

“With infrastructure being talked about at the federal level … we would like to be able to latch on and finally get a bridge crossing in Cassville,” said Lance Wamsley, co-founder of the coalition. “We’re trying to economically revitalize parts of southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa by bridging the gap.”

The bill, introduced by Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, would provide the Wisconsin Department of Transportation with up to $1 million in general purpose revenue to finance half the study, contingent on a match from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

State Reps. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, and Todd Novak, R-Dodgeville, co-sponsored the Senate bill.

“If the feds … are going to open up the checkbook, it just makes sense to have projects that are in the queue,” Tranel said.

Proposals for a bridge crossing at Cassville have been discussed since the late 1920s, Wamsley said, but a bridge has not been prioritized. Currently, a seasonal ferry provides access to motorists, who must otherwise go to Dubuque or Prairie du Chien to cross the river.

Most river crossings occur just 30 to 35 miles apart, Wamsley said, so Cassville represents a desired halfway point.

The bridge would span the site of the former Nelson Dewey Generating Station to the current ferry landing on Oak Road east of Millville, Iowa.

Students at University of Wisconsin-Platteville studying the project estimated that constructing the bridge in 2025 would cost more than $200 million. But the investment would pay dividends, said Joe Ploessl, president of Cassville Economic Development Corp.

Not only could the Village of Cassville become an intermodal transport hub with its existing barge and rail access, he said, but those communities stretching from Dyersville, Iowa, to Muscoda could become an economic corridor through which agricultural products and tourists flow.

“It will work both ways,” said Darla Kelchen, executive director of Clayton County (Iowa) Development Group.

UW-P students found that a bridge crossing would save users an average of 40 minutes of driving time, or 34 miles, roundtrip.

They predicted that if the bridge is completed by 2031, average daily traffic would increase from 2,784 trips to 3,150 over the following decade. Drivers cumulatively would see a cost savings of $86 million.

The bill has been referred to a Wisconsin Senate committee, but Marklein said even if it gains traction, its future depends on Iowa officials.

A representative from the Iowa DOT said the agency “has not allocated funding toward a feasibility study at this time.” Meanwhile, the Iowa legislative session has ended for the year.