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Hoping for a Bridge Over Railroad Tracks? Don't Hold Your Breath

Sussex Village Administrator Jeremy Smith says putting a bridge over the railroad near Quad/Graphics to alleviate traffic problems isn’t going to happen, and the cost of doing it in general is astronomical.

When Village Board members announced , a new issue on Main Street presented itself: a bridge over the railroad tracks.

With 35 trains passing through Sussex every day, especially around the time when school begins or ends, backups and delays have become a part of every resident’s life.

Sussex resident Mike Carlson started the conversation about the need for an overpass during . With the construction project limited , Carlson wondered why village officials didn’t address the train problem while the project is being negotiated.

“I’ve lived here for 31 years,” he said. “I want to know why this board will redo this Main Street. When are we going to get a bridge over the railroad? It’s not even part of the concept. I want to see you reconsider this project.”

Soon enough, more people began standing and commenting on the frequent backups near Quad/Graphics and . And with almost 50 percent of the votes in , it quickly became residents’ new number one concern.

But Village Administrator Jeremy Smith said residents shouldn’t get their hopes up. Not only is it estimated that the incline to create the overpass needs to start at least a mile away from the tracks, Sussex doesn’t have power over state highways.

“As far as safety, Sussex works with Lannon and Menomonee Falls so if a train is stuck, they’ll actually respond on that side of the tracks for us.” 

“Main Street, which is Highway 74, is a state highway,” Smith explained. “Four years ago when the state went through and re-did the highway, they studied overpass/underpass situations in regard to trains, but they stopped for financial reasons… I mean, for the right amount of money you can do anything, but they decided not to spend that kind of money for a lot of good reasons, like protecting businesses like Boneyard and Quad/Graphics.”

Smith says Sussex simply doesn’t have the authority over that highway, and such a project would be far too expensive. The village could theoretically come up with enough money to convince the state to do the project, but Smith says Sussex would literally need to spend all the money in its yearly capital program for up to 30 years to foot the bill.

Outside of the obvious inconveniences to drivers, some residents commented about safety issues, especially during the rare times when a train stops completely on the tracks for long periods of time. One local business owner cited a time years ago when an ambulance was stuck on the wrong side of the tracks during a backup. The young girl they were responding to lost her life.

“Somewhere, many years in the future we could be talking about a potential overpass, but – it’s just not likely at all.”

“As far as safety, Sussex works with Lannon and Menomonee Falls, so if a train is stuck, they’ll actually respond on that side of the tracks for us,” Smith said. “When it comes to mutual aid, it’s not putting anyone at a public safety risk because we have them set up to respond. But as far as inconvenience on daily life, it’s an issue, but it’s not one that if you put the dollars and cents to it, it is one that the state is going to work on, or the county.”

However, while it’s not possible to put an overpass on Main Street, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been explored elsewhere. Smith says it could be possible at Silver Spring Drive because it’s a county highway, but county officials have never shown interest.

On the other hand, an overpass was seriously considered on Hwy K, or Lisbon Road. According to Smith, a few years ago a railroad commissioner, with the support from the Town of Lisbon, was exploring to put an overpass there, but it again came down to the high price tag. In addition, after the railroad commissioner left, the movement fizzled out.

“Sussex just doesn’t have the power,” said Smith. “Somewhere, many years in the future we could be talking about a potential overpass, but it’s just not likely at all.”

Want to know more about the Main Street reconstruction project? Patch has you covered. Click here to check out all the stories we've done on this issue.

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