Faced with the loss of Minnesota’s third major highway bridge across the Mississippi River in the past year (fourth, if you count six days of closure of the Hastings span for repairs scheduled later this month), officials in Winona are planning a ferry service to reconnect with Wisconsin.
For a $5 fare, shuttle buses, commuter vans, and the Island Girl excursion boat will try to replace the Hwy. 43 span, which was closed indefinitely Tuesday after inspectors spotted dangerous rusting on structurally vital gusset plates.
We at Minnesota 2020 think the “Island Girl” ferry alone may not be enough to make up for 11,600 daily vehicle trips across the now-blockaded bridge. We think it’s time to go multi modal. We think it’s time to bring in the Ducks!
Yes, folks, less than two hours away at the Wisconsin Dells is the nation’s largest fleet of amphibious vehicles, doing nothing more important than showing tourists some fancy rock formations. Once they spearheaded U.S. military beach landings during World War II and the Korean War. Now the country needs them to restore economic relations between Winona and the Badger State towns of Arcadia and Fountain City.
The Ducks — so dubbed after their military code name D.U.K.W.s — would offer many advantages to stranded bridge users:
* As vehicles designed for both land and water travel, they could eliminate the annoying transfer from boat to bus now facing ferry riders.
* The Original Wisconsin Ducks service boasts an unblemished 57-year water safety history with its armada of more than 90 amphibious craft. That’s more than you can say for Minnesota’s highway bridges.
* Original Wisconsin Ducks drivers get six weeks of intensive training before being allowed behind the wheel of these 7-1/2-ton, 31-foot beauties that can carry up to 50 people each at speeds of 50 miles per hour on land, 6 knots on water.
* Most of the Ducks were built in 1942, which makes them a year younger than the corroded Hwy. 43 bridge. Their steel hulls are kept in top condition for the safety and comfort of 300,000 annual tour patrons.
* It’s patriotic! All of the Original Wisconsin Ducks are named after famous military leaders or WWII battles.
Unfortunately, with tourist season in full swing at the Dells, Ducks operators haven’t offered their sturdy craft to the beleaguered commuters of Winona. So Minnesota 2020 is soliciting other ideas for getting folks across the Mississippi without a 70-to-100-mile detour to the nearest unclosed highway bridges.
To get the ball rolling, here are a few modest proposals:
* A rope bridge. It could be quickly thrown across the river, offering more breathtaking thrills than a Ducks ride and nearly as many as an auto trip across a structurally deficient steel truss bridge. And it could double as a location for the next “Survivor!” episode.
* Gondolas. Imagine the romance of crossing the Father of Waters at sunset with a hearty boatman belting out an operatic aria, or maybe a Minnesota polka.
On the other hand, maybe Minnesota could just avoid all this bother in the future by marshaling the resources necessary to keep all its bridges safe and functional. But that’s crazy talk, because we might have to raise some taxes to do it.