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Tales of our Beginnings

Tales of our Beginnings Tales of our Beginnings

Cadott • Cornell • Lake Holcombe areas

The Blue Bridge

While the blue bridge over the Chippewa River in Cornell, is a familiar and well-known landmark, planning for the new Chippewa River crossing, began in the early 1960s. A new bridge was needed, because of the failure of the retaining wall at the west end, the severe disintegration of the concrete piers, above normal deflection of the floor stringers and the inadequate 19-foot roadway.

Several alternate locations for a new structure were studied, but since the existing bridge needed to be removed anyway, it was determined a new bridge would be built in the same spot, to best serve the community’s residential and business areas, and enhance potential industrial development.

The extremely deep water – up to 60 feet – and the irregular rock slopes of the channel, made it impractical to construct a conventional steel plate girder bridge, which would require the construction of piers keyed into the rock slopes. So, the Division of Highways Bridge Section developed plans for a unique bridge that would span the entire channel, without piers in the water, known as a tied-arch bridge.

The single span bridge was designed to be 485 feet long, with the high point of the arch, 75 feet above the bridge floor. The new structure provides a 44-foot roadway for vehicular traffic and 4-foot wide sidewalk for pedestrians.

Because of the unusual design, the contractor had to get creative. Beginning at the west end, he erected a section of the bridge on barges. When one section was completed, the barge was moved to the east and another set of barges brought in the next section.

The procedure was repeated until the whole bridge was essentially sitting on barges in the river. The barges were then maneuvered into position and the bridge was lowered onto abutments, with hydraulic jacks.

Costing $1.65 million, the bridge contains 1,118 tons of steel and 1,100 yards of concrete. Roadway approach construction involved moving 140,000 cubic yards of dirt. Work was started in December 1970, and was completed in September 1972.

To be more aesthetically pleasing, the bridge was painted blue, rather than the standard aluminum color. The structure was the first tied-arch bridge to be constructed in Wisconsin. (Courtesy of the Cornell Centennial 1913-2013)

The newer blue bridge is pictured to the left, while remnants of the former bridge remained in the river channel.