February 16, 2017 – In front of a packed crowd, Virgil Kasper presented on the history of the railroad industry in Wisconsin specifically focusing on Sauk County and the Merrimac Railroad Bridge. Virgil was the chairman of the Pink Lady Rail Transit Commission as it was formed in 1986 and served as Chairperson for 22 years. He continues to serve as the Vice Chairman of the Commission. The free event was the first education seminar for 2017 hosted by the Lake Wisconsin Alliance (LWA).
The railroad industry has been vital to the economy of Sauk County. From passengers to grain and manufactured materials, the rail lines have provided efficient transportation of goods and services since 1871. Although the rail lines are well over a century old, most are in excellent condition. Virgil stated the lines are inspected daily and ultra-sounded quarterly so as to measure fractures as little as 1/8” wide.
The original wood structure bridge of 1871 was replaced with the steel span bridge of today. It was built with asking span for boats, that was seldom used and never after the Prairie du Sac dam was closed. The deck and plate bridge is 1718 feet long with 21 spans. It will be the longest railroad bridge replaced in the State of Wisconsin. In August 2016, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation approved a $17 million plan to repair the bridge. Virgil said span #2 is in dire shape and will be the first span replaced in late summer or early fall 2017. The remainder of the work is scheduled for 2018 and 2019. The construction plan consists of replacing the entire bridge with new steel and reinforcing some of the original piers.
The Lake Wisconsin Alliance (LWA) is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization that endeavors to balance the diverse interests of the Lake Wisconsin community while improving water quality, recreational opportunities, and sustaining a healthy ecosystem within the Lake Wisconsin watershed. If you have questions about this event, feel free to contact Melissa Keenan at 608-963-3428, or [email protected]. The presentation was recorded and can be found on the LWA website under the Resources – Outreach & Education – Past Education Seminar Materials.