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Bridging the gap: Cassville finds spark of hope for decades desired bridge project

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 6:52 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2021 at 7:07 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - For roughly 90 years, the town of Cassville has wanted a bridge connecting their side of the Mississippi to Iowa.

The town sits on the western edge of Grant County. Whether it was the Great Depression, World War II, or a changing economy, the timing has always been off.

But there’s a spark of hope from President Biden’s $2 trillion Infrastructure Plan.

“Because of President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan, this is a distinct possibility,” Joe Ploessl, life-long Cassville resident said.

Ploessl sees a glimmer of hope to the long-awaited bridge project, estimated to cost $175 million.

“We feel honestly, like we’ve earned it,” Ploessl said.

Ploessl saw some drastic changes to the village economy, especially after two power plants, supplying jobs to at least 100 people, shut down within the last few years.

“We’ve lost at least half a million dollars a year in payroll, our population went from 1,300 to 947,” Ploessl said.

Cassville Village President Keevin Williams says a bridge branching over the Mississippi to Iowa could be the solution.

“If we build the bridge here and we’ll have better access to highways, I think there would be more businesses locating here to create more jobs,” Williams said.

Williams also said it would benefit long-haul truckers and farmers transporting goods between states. Preliminary plans show the bridge would replace the current ferry that operates from May through October.

“This is the longest stretch of Mississippi that doesn’t have a bridge crossing, and if you look at Prairie Du Chien and Dubuque, we’re pretty much right in between,” Williams said.

The “Badger Hawkeye Bridge Coalition” takes these plans a step further. They’ve started an online petition. They’re also working with engineering students at UW Platteville to design what the bridge would look like. Students put together a full report in 2018.

Lance Wamsley, co-founder of the coalition, has been pushing hard for the project’s birth for the last six years.

“In 2015, when I started to push this idea, we had just lost both of our power plants,” Wamsley said. “That has a really sizable impact on the economy. What we’re really up against now. Is the fact that it’s hard to get businesses and industries to move to this area due to the lack of infrastructure.”

The bridge would serve many purposes, but residents are looking to creating a new economic corridor for Grant County, Wisconsin and Clayton County, Iowa.

To finally make this plan a reality, federal funding is crucial.

“With infrastructure plan, bridges and roads, that’s one thing they’re talking about,” Williams said. “We feel this is one thing that warrants being looked at, so that’s what our hope is.”

Before anything can happen, there needs to be a feasibility study, and support from legislators.

Cassville is in State Sen. Howard Marklein’s district. NBC15 reached out to him to hear what he had to say about the project.

“The Cassville bridge idea is certainly an idea to discuss as a part of the overall state budget,” said Marklein. “This would be a massive investment in a project that would require interstate collaboration with Iowa. I will attempt to convince my legislative colleagues of the importance of this new artery from Iowa into my district.”

From the residents NBC15 spoke with, no one appeared to be vehemently opposed to the project. Some expressed skepticism to it following through, mainly because it has taken nine decades to get close to the building phase. One resident who wished to remain anonymous referred to the project as a “bridge to nowhere.”

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