Patience will be the key for drivers in the Green Bay area for the next weeks, months, maybe even a year.
The closure of the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge, which carries Interstate 43 traffic over the Fox River, will affect not only those who regularly use it to get to work or go up north, but it will impact anyone driving in Green Bay and its suburbs because of the delays and congestion expected from the rerouted traffic.
The bridge was closed about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday after several people crossing it reported a dip in the roadway. Further inspection showed that a supporting pier sank about 2 feet, causing a 400-foot section of the roadway to sag on the east side of the bridge.
Those callers performed a valuable community service. By alerting law enforcement to a potential problem, they allowed authorities to close the bridge before the morning commute reached its height.
The problem is serious enough that the governor signed a declaration of emergency Friday, making it eligible for federal emergency relief funds to make the necessary repairs.
Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday stressed that public safety was the No. 1 objective, but he also touched on the importance of this transportation link. "It's a vital part of the state's economy," he said.
The state Department of Transportation estimates 40,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge. It is an important part of our transportation system and like any good thing, you don't realize how much you like it or need until it's gone.
The closure will now reroute traffic to U.S. 41, which is under construction from De Pere to Suamico. Lane closures and changes in the roadway slowed traffic before this. We're sure many drivers used I-43 to get around the 41 roadwork.
With an increase in the number of drivers using U.S. 41, it will be doubly important for people to slow down and pay attention.
"This is difficult, we realize, for the people of Green Bay," Kim Rudat of the DOT said on Wednesday. "This is intrusive. There's no question about it. And when we say we want to expedite this, there is a sense of immediacy."
Until then, all we can do is give ourselves extra time to reach our destinations.
The indefinite closure of the Leo Frigo bridge creates a hassle for many commuters, truckers, vacationers, and Green Bay-area residents trying to get across the Fox River and to their destination.
And it appears it's a problem that will be with us for a while. We urge the DOT to take the time needed to ensure it's repaired and safe for vehicle traffic.
In the meantime, let's keep the problem in perspective. The good news is no one was killed or injured when part of the bridge failed. The good news is we have drivers who looked out for the well-being of others by alerting police to the situation. The good news is the governor sees fixing the bridge as a priority for the state, not just the region.
Patience will be rewarded, even if the payoff is simply getting to your destination safely.