Ferry service began Monday between Winona, Minnesota and the Wisconsin shoreline across the Mississippi River previously connected by the Highway 43 bridge.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed the bridge last week, after the discovery of rusting and failing gusset plates holding together the bridge. Deteriorating gusset plates are blamed for the collapse last September of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis.
Hundreds gathered on the Wisconsin shoreline across from Winona when the first ferry began boarding passengers at 5:30 this morning. Far fewer passengers were on the Minnesota side of the river but that's what Winona assistant city manager Judy Boway expected. She says far more people come into Winona each day, because it is a regional employment hub.
At least four companies will provide ferry service while the Winona bridge is closed, which could be several months.
The service was welcomed by commuters like Jim Kronebusch. He was driving 67 miles each way to get to his destination on the other side of the river.
Passengers are being charged $5 a trip or $15 for a weekly pass. The city of Winona is picking up the $85,000 a week rental on the ferries but hopes the federal and state governments will help it with the costs.
MN DOT is expected to announce later this week whether it will recommend repairing the 43 year old bridge or replacing it. Minnesota taxpayers are already paying for the replacement of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis and another bridge over the Mississippi at St. Cloud which was closed in April because of stability concerns.