Crawford County Highway Department explains washout on Wisconsin Highway 82; Local residents, business owners react to impact of incident and brief closure

by B.J. Tomlinson and Susan Cantine-Maxson

Wisconsin and Iowa officials had initially estimated that the Wisconsin Highway 82 connection between Iowa and Wisconsin might be closed for several weeks for repairs after a portion of the highway near the Wisconsin side of the river washed out suddenly in the early morning hours of May 30, ultimately claiming the life of 59-year-old Lansing resident Jim Walleser. The washout happened just shy of two miles east of Lansing, creating a 70-foot long crater in the eastbound lane of the highway as it approached what is known as Henderson Bridge that spans Henderson Slough of the Mississippi River.

Stunned residents of the area have been asking how this tragic event occurred and wonder if it could happen again.

Crawford County Wisconsin Highway Department Superintendent Todd Myers said, "Turbulent waters created an eddy that swirled back toward the dike (elevated highway), washing away the sand, rock and sod that supported the bridge approach. Usually, a dip will develop on the road surface that would have alerted motorists and officials that something was wrong, but in this case the washout happened all at once. We are all saddened by the loss of life. Mother Nature is powerful and can't be predicted. This event is similar in nature to bluff failures after severe rain storms."

As it turns out, the repairs to the highway only took three days to complete, as Highway 82 was opened to traffic again Friday morning, June 2 at approximately 11 a.m. Understanding the importance of transportation between Iowa and Wisconsin, the Crawford County Highway Department was able to mobilize its most local crew and equipment in short order and found necessary repair materials close by, including asphalt from La Crosse, WI and rip-rap rock at the quarry on County Road B and from Strong Quarry in Lansing. The crew worked long hours to get the job done. "Everything came into place easily and various agencies helped out," Superintendent Myers said.

Myers also said the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) inspects bridges routinely, and has found the other bridges along the highway to be sound. In addition, the DOT intends to hire the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department to perform an additional inspection in the near future using side-scan sonar equipment to determine the types of materials, textures and other archaeological features of the riverbed and dikes.

Several local businesses in Lansing say they noticed a significant slowdown in traffic on Main Street during the Highway 28 closure, but all of the business people interviewed agreed that a slightly slower business day was insignificant compared to the tragedy that the Jim Walleser family suffered. Lights were lit on  the Black Hawk Bridge over the Mississippi River Saturday, June 3 as a tribute to his memory.

Laurie Janzen at Lansing Hardware noted that repairs and service calls that were scheduled for the business by customers across the river had to be consolidated so that her husband, Dave, could make one trip on one day rather than several trips due to the extensive detours required either to the Marquette-Prairie du Chien, WI crossing to the south or the La Crescent, MN-La Crosse, WI connection to the north.

It was noted that quite a few individuals live on one side of the river and work on the other, in both directions. For them, the commute to work became an hour to an hour and a half instead of the previous 10 to 15 minutes. Several mentioned that although it was an inconvenience for the short term, no one was complaining in light of the loss of life that one family has to endure.

Most individuals feel that the roadway is safe again now that the road has been repaired. As one individual said, “We’ve all driven over that bridge for many years. There’s a part of you that has a little fear but if the road crew feels it’s safe, then I’m going to trust them.”

In response to the repairs being completed and the road opened again in a matter of just three days, local business owner Paul Horsfall said, “They must have really worked non-stop to get it done that fast.” Everyone is grateful that the Crawford County Highway Department in Wisconsin worked tirelessly to get the repairs done so quickly.

Janzen continued, “If it were long term, it would make a significant difference, but less than a week is manageable.” Long-time residents in Lansing remember when a portion of the Black Hawk Bridge was damaged in 1945, when flooding washed out some of the approach spans from the Wisconsin side of the river. The structure was closed to traffic for nearly a dozen years before it finally reopened in 1957, according to information found and shared from

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