Here Comes the High Bridge

restored bike-pedestrian bridge will be open for use by the end of the summer

Zack Katz, photos by Andrea Paulseth

HOPE YOU’RE NOT AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. Workers are currently in the process of restoring the old high railroad bridge. While it’s still closed to the public, but will connect to several trails by the end of the summer.
HOPE YOU’RE NOT AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. Workers are currently in the process of restoring
the old "High Bridge" railroad river crossing. While it’s still closed to the public, it'll connect
to several trails by the end of the summer.

Walking across Phoenix Park’s footbridge (or driving on the Madison Street bridge), a towering iron fixture can be seen as the last in the succession of bridges sprinkled down the Chippewa River before Xcel Energy’s dam.

Soon, that 80-foot tall bridge will be more than part of a picturesque view in the distance: It will also provide one.

On Aug. 12 last year, the Eau Claire City Council voted unanimously in favor of reimagining the 19th-century railroad bridge once traversed by Union Pacific trains.

By late summer, the aptly named “High Bridge” will reopen for cyclists and pedestrians, with trail additions on either side to boot. All this after a $1.15 million bid OK’d by the council – of which $494,000 will be covered by state grant. The rest is to come out of the city’s bridge repair fund.

The idea will sophisticate the city’s already bike-friendly system of trails, and open a bicycle connection between the northwest side of Eau Claire and downtown. Roughly 900 feet in length, the High Bridge will be resemble the S-shape bridge adjacent to Banbury Place, and will be complete with lighting and five overlooks.

With construction already underway, City Engineer Dave Solberg said the High Bridge project is “on schedule and trending to be slightly under budget.”

A significant amount of what is already available will be repurposed, considering the sturdy bridge is accustomed to supporting trains rather than pedestrians and bikers.

Not much has shifted in the plan since the vote other than a change order proposed for an alternative wood treatment. The treatment would save on costs, and wouldn’t yield any visible differences.

The trail will eventually run along Fourth Street and connect to Phoenix Park, “making field trips a possibility for Roosevelt Elementary students,” Solberg said.

“It’s interesting to look at, architecturally unique, and who doesn’t like being on a bridge over water?” Solberg said. “We’re preserving a piece of history … as well as saving money.”

The High Bridge project is a design undertaking of Ayres Associates. Follow its progress via their blog at www.ayresassociates.com.

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