EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- With the snip of a scissors, the beat of the Blugold Marching Band and plenty of bicyclists, those living in Eau Claire got up close and personal with the new Water Street Bridge.
All of the pomp and circumstance Thursday evening was part of a celebration put on by several community organizations. It comes less than 24-hours from when the $7.1 million bridge is scheduled to open for the first time to traffic.
“It’s been under construction for almost a year and I think that everyone is breathing a sigh of relief that tomorrow is going to be the day,” Eau Claire City Engineer Dave Solberg said.
Solberg says the project had its fair share of ups and downs but in the end crews were able to demolish the old bridge which served the city for almost 70 years. Now, a new enhanced bridge stands in its place. He says when drivers finally hit the pavement Friday afternoon they're going to notice many differences between the new bridge and the old one.
“We have a new rail that's higher than the old rail. The sidewalks are wider. There are dedicated bike lanes. We have decorative lighting too. It’s just a more enhanced bridge,” Solberg explained.
The enhanced safety features make cyclists like Aaron Salmon feel better about their commute.
“It's a huge improvement. The sidewalks were very narrow on the old bridge and it was scary to go across and now we have dedicated bike lanes and nice sidewalks,” Salmon said.
Salmon, who chairs the Eau Claire Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission, joined more than two dozen cyclists who took part in the first official trip across the bridge Thursday night.
Eau Claire’s City Engineer says crews will put the final touches on the entry points to the bridge Friday before opening it to traffic by late morning or early afternoon.
A celebration is getting underway Thursday afternoon at the site of the new Water Street Bridge.
The party on the bridge starts at 4:30 p.m Thursday. Organizers said root beer floats would be served, and featured performers would be on hand, including the Blugold Marching Band at 5:30 p.m. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was set for 5:50 p.m. on the east end of the bridge. After that, members of the City of Eau Claire Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Commission will hold a ceremonial first crossing. The public is welcome to join, and people who want to participate are asked to meet at the east end of the bridge.
When it opens to traffic, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said the bridge will be able to carry cars, bikes and pedestrians over the Chippewa River in a much safer way. Project Manager Tara Weiss said that's because the bridge is much wider than the old structure. She added that it features larger sidewalks and an added bike lane on both sides.
"It should be able to meet the needs, and it's something to be proud of," Weiss said.
The city expects to open the bridge to traffic on Friday. We'll have live reports and interviews with city representatives Thursday on WEAU 13 News at Five.