Brown County expected to take over Green Bay drawbridge operations, tenders

GREEN BAY, Wis (WBAY) -- Plans are moving forward to operate the drawbridges in downtown Green Bay more efficiently.

The Walnut Street bridge tower.

This isn't the first time changes to bridge operations have been discussed.

On Monday, the Brown County Executive Committee approved allowing the county to manage bridge tender positions. The measure will go to the full County Board on August 21.

Currently, the bridge tenders are employed by the city, but the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has proposed Brown County take over the responsibility.

Green Bay Public Works Director Steve Grenier says this is a plan that has been years in the making.

“We do a lot of the service maintenance on the bridges already. My guys are very familiar with getting into those bridges and helping out with the mechanicals; we already do a lot of that work,” said Paul Fontecchio, director of public works for Brown County.

It will also allow the county to use the bridge tenders in other ways outside of the shipping season.

The shipping season generally runs from April 1st to December 1st.

“We've been working closely with Brown County Public Works department in utilizing the bridge tenders on the county staff to supplement the county plowing operations on the state trunk highways in the winter,” said Brian Brock, planning and operations manager of the northeast region for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Fontecchio says having a few more snow plow drivers in the winter will be a huge benefit county wide.

The plan also includes downsizing the number of bridge tenders from 12 to five, saving the DOT about $400,000 per navigation season.

“Currently we're operating with bridge tenders on all the lift bridges, so they're manned by personal operating those bridges. Our goal is to work towards doing the bridges remotely, so someday we hope to do that,” said Brock.

All three bridges would be operated by one bridge tender from the Walnut Street bridge tower.

“From there you can see both physically and you'll have a room full of cameras on each bridge,” said Fontecchio. He says it’s similar to the setup Sturgeon Bay has with its drawbridges.

The U.S. Coast Guard is taking public comment on the proposal to operate all three bridges remotely until October 28.

The county is expected to take over bridge operations on December 1.

That will allow employees to be trained prior to the spring shipping season and the highway department can utilize the extra staff for snow removal operations.