Door County City examines ways to reduce fiscal impact

The City of Sturgeon Bay and the Door County Sheriff’s Department started posting uniformed officers at each end of the Michigan Street Bridge July 23 for 16 hours a day, in order to keep vehicles weighing more than five tons from crossing the 78-year-old structure.

A report compiled by engineers from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) labeled portions of the steel in the bridge structure unstable due to deterioration. Although a collapse of the bridge similar to the full bridge collapse in Minnesota is not anticipated, there could still be localized failures, according to Will Dorsey, the northeast Wisconsin regional operations director for the DOT. Localized failures could mean holes in the road deck.

Keeping this potential threat of damage to person and property in mind, the city and county reduced the hours the bridge is open to vehicular traffic from 6 am to 10 pm and stationed an officer on each end to steer vehicles exceeding five tons to an alternate route over the Bay View Bridge. This detour is in effect until the opening of the Maple-Oregon Street Bridge, now scheduled for Sept. 20.

Budgetary issues for each department begin to come into play when the total hours an officer will be on duty are considered. If the county and city continue to man the bridge until Sept. 20 in the current fashion, the job will total 60 days, or 1,920 man-hours.

Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Dan Trelka said enforcing the weight limit is taking a toll on the city police department’s budget.

“Sadly, cities have to be prepared for these type of financial situations,” Trelka said. “I hate to use contingency funds, but my department could cut into the city’s contingency fund by $15,000 to $16,000 this year. The money for non-sworn officers will come out of those departments’ budgets.”

Last week Door County Administrator Michael Serpe said both the county and city put in a request to the DOT to pull off one of the sworn officers and replace the officer with a city or county staff member who has traffic direction experience at the other end.

“This person will likely be someone from the highway department or an off-duty fireman,” Serpe said. “That should help us keep the [staffing] cost down. This is a busy time of the year, and our resources are already spread thin.”

Currently, Sheriff Terry Vogel has assigned reserve officers to man the bridge. These are part-time Sheriff Department employees who do not receive benefits and are at a reduced pay level from a full-time deputy, Vogel said.

“It’s a cost savings to me to use reserves,” Vogel said. “We use the reserves for special events, things like parades and major accidents.”

Several reserve deputies said they receive about $18 per hour for the job.

Sturgeon Bay Police Chief Dan Trelka was out on the road himself Wednesday due to strained staffing because of the bridge needs.

“It’s been a constant, continual struggle with staffing,” Trelka said. “After Labor Day, we’re considering closing the bridge at 8 pm instead of 10 pm to save on staffing costs.”

So far, no weight violation citations have been issued, Vogel said.

“Our goal is to stop the [overweight] traffic before they cross the bridge,” Vogel said.

Neither Serpe nor Vogel said the county had considered installing surveillance cameras on the bridge to monitor traffic and issue weight violation citations.

“It doesn’t really do any good to write a ticket after they’ve driven across the bridge,” Serpe said. “They’re still driving across.”

Trelka said the installation of a surveillance system on the bridge was a thought that had crossed people’s minds. However, he said he wasn’t sure about the legalities of such a system in Wisconsin.

“We’re simply doing what we feel is in the best interest of our community,” Trelka said.