MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV) – The city of Menasha brought out all the bells and whistles to celebrate the reopening of the Racine Street Bridge on Wednesday evening.
Hundreds of people showed up to a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included the Menasha High School marching band, an honor guard, and state and local dignitaries.
After cutting the ribbon, Menasha Mayor Don Merkes invited all in attendance to take a walk over the newly reopened bridge. At around 6:30 Wednesday night, the bridge reopened to vehicle traffic.
“It’s a thrill and it’s a landmark day for Menasha and the greater Fox Cities,” said Dean Moede.
Decked out in Menasha blue and carrying a sign announcing his excitement that the bridge project is completed, Moede was among the swarm of people in attendance on Wednesday afternoon.
The bridge connects downtown Menasha to Doty Island.
“To see all the kids, the younger generation be part of this, this is a great celebration day for Menasha,” said Moede.
“I remember when it went under construction and I was excited to see what would happen, and I’m excited to see it today it looks very nice,” said 12-year-old Brady Hendricks. “On Tayco Street down there it was really busy traffic and we have two outlets now to get on the other side of Doty Island so I think it’s a really nice add-in.”
For several years, when Jane Hamilton looked out the window of her business on Main Street in Menasha all she saw was construction. On Wednesday, she finally got to see a completed bridge.
“It’s way time for this bridge to open up, there’s been several delays,” said Hamilton. “We’re ecstatic.”
Hamilton owns the ‘Blind Lady Custom Blinds’ and ‘Mystical Earth Gallery.’ She said she’s been in this location for about four years.
She said she has a good core group of customers who always continued to come even during the bridge construction, but said that the bridge opening up now could do nothing but help business.
“It’s only a matter of time as we get more traffic that we’ll get more visitors and that’s a good thing for any business,” said Hamilton. “We’ll have an increase in traffic and I’m hoping the roundabout will just slow people down just a little bit so that they can see how many nice businesses are in downtown Menasha.”
“It’s not that you couldn’t get here, but there was a perception that it was difficult to get here, so people didn’t come downtown and weren’t patronizing our businesses (while the bridge was closed for construction),” added Mayor Merkes.
Just a few doors down at Club Liquor, owner James Horan said he thinks the bridge reopening will be good for business. Horan said he and his brother took over a couple of years ago and the business has been around since 1971 and has always been in this location.
He also said he’s excited for the bridge to reopen. He and others at his store grilled up some brats and gave them out for free to celebrate.
“For me personally, it’s going to cut my commute time to work by about half,” said Horan.
The new bridge improves safety for pedestrians by adding bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides. It will also give boats traveling underneath more clearance and will reduce the frequency of the bridge getting opened to allow boats through.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation estimates that the new bridge can survive for about 75 years without needing a major improvement.
“Connecting our community back together is going to be super important for both our residents and our businesses, so this is a super happy day for all of us,” said Mayor Merkes.
Merkes said that the city is proud of the bridge project, so they wanted to have a big celebration when it opened for the first time.
The previous bridge had been built in 1952. In 2015, Menasha’s city council voted to replace the bridge. Construction began in the fall of 2020 and Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials said supply chain snags and bad weather delayed project completion past the initial timeline. Officials closed the bridge to vehicle traffic in the fall of 2021.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation took care of the $33 million price tag, but the city is on the hook for future maintenance and repairs.
Local Five News did speak to one man who was upset with the bridge project. He felt like the city should be focusing on other projects like fixing several roads that are in disrepair. However, everybody else Local Five News spoke to on Wednesday afternoon were excited about the project.