Kaukauna may get bridge repair funds, the repairs would help Fox River Locks system open fully

KAUKAUNA, Wi. (WBAY) - About a year ago, the U.S. Coast Guard told Kaukauna its lift bridge needs to be fixed by May 2021. The lift mechanism on the Veterans Memorial Bridge hasn’t been operational since the early 2000s.

Kaukauna taxpayers were facing a nearly $2 million price tag to make those changes until this year.

“We were lucky enough that Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna), through the joint finance committee, put this in the budget so we can open the bridge,” said Kaukauna Mayor Tony Penterman.

As long as Gov. Tony Evers leaves the committee’s adopted provision in the budget, a state grant will pay for about 80 percent of the needed repairs.

“The sooner the better as far as we’re concerned,” said Tim Rose, chairman of the Fox River Navigational Authority.

Rose says getting the bridge working is key to opening up the entire Fox River Locks system.

“We think it’s going to be an amazing tourist attraction,” said Rose.

Rose says an independent study found the near 40 mile long Fox River Lock system could generate nearly $300 million over ten years. Something Penterman is already making plans to capitalize on.

“Here in the canal we’re looking at building a hotel,” said Penterman. “We’re also going to put another dock in… that will allow people to get off and shop and visit our downtown area.”

But Kaukauna’s grand plans are only a piece of the overall Fox River Locks project.

“It’s something that not only belongs to the people that live in this part of Wisconsin, but belongs to everyone in Wisconsin,” said Rose.

Penterman hopes that if the funding works out, the bridge could lift again by early next year.