“We will get through this and help one another”: Water taxi offers some hope to communities struggling after Black Hawk Bridge closure

Water taxi helps keep hope afloat ...
Water taxi helps keep hope afloat ... Maiden Voyage Tours’ 49-passenger tour boat is pictured at Big Slough Landing, on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. Providing a water taxi service for those wanting to cross the river during the repair of the Black Hawk Bridge, that service is free and runs seven days a week from the Lansing Marina to Big Slough Landing. The Iowa Department of Transportation bought the temporary dock pictured and had it installed at Big Slough Landing so the water taxi has a safe place to load and unload passengers. The dock will be removed when the bridge re-opens and the water taxi ceases operation. Photo by Julie Berg-Raymond.

by Julie Berg-Raymond

It was a chilly 24 degrees under overcast skies at 7 a.m. Monday, March 18, when the first water taxi left the Lansing Marina for Big Slough Landing in Crawford County, WI.

It wasn’t an ideal morning for a boat ride; but, while the boat provides blankets for passengers, comfortable recreation isn’t the point of this service. The point, instead, is to provide free transportation for people who need to cross the river without having to drive north to La Crescent/La Crosse or south to Marquette/Prairie du Chien while the Black Hawk Bridge is being repaired and made safe again for traffic.

“February 25 we closed the existing bridge because of movement of two piers (the pillars that support the bridge) on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. Days later plans were finalized, and the repair process was underway to get the bridge safely back open to traffic. An investigation determined soil conditions, the age of the current bridge and the construction taking place for the new bridge all played a part in the movement.”
~ Mississippi River Bridge at Lansing Project Update - March 28, 2024

Robert Vavra and his wife, Debra, have owned and operated Maiden Voyage Tours out of Marquette since 2006. The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) has contracted with the Vavras to run the water taxi service until late April, when repairs to the Black Hawk Bridge connecting the two states are expected to be complete. “Having a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s License, having a vessel current on U.S. Coast Guard inspections, and a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were important factors in our selection of the service provider,” Clayton Burke of the Iowa DOT said.

The water taxi service runs seven days a week, making eight round trips each day. The boat departs the Lansing Marina at the top of the hour and Big Slough Landing on the half hour, with the first boat leaving the Lansing Marina at 7 a.m. The last trip across the river returns to the Marina at 5:37 p.m.

For the water taxi service, the Vavras employ a rotating staff of three captains and four deck hands. There will always be two staff members, including a captain, on each trip across the river.

Along with the water taxi service, the Iowa DOT has contracted with Luxxor Limousines of Des Moines for land shuttles between the Lansing Marina and two stops in Lansing - City Hall, and the old lumber yard. The Iowa DOT has also purchased a dock and has had it installed at Big Slough Landing, so the water taxi has a safe place to load and unload passengers. The dock will be removed when the bridge is repaired and the water taxi service ceases operation.

On the Wisconsin side of the river, the Wisconsin DOT has contracted with Running Inc., and EARL Public Transit to provide shuttle service from Big Slough Landing to the De Soto Community Center. Shuttles run between the water taxi and the designated pick-up/drop-off points. Travelers will need to find their own transportation from that point. Bicycles may be brought onto the boat but are not allowed in the land shuttles.

The Iowa DOT led the effort to put together the water taxi/shuttle bus operation - including staff in the district office, the maintenance staff from its Waukon garage, construction staff, transit, procurement and environmental staff in Ames, and the chief engineer and director. “Everyone made this a priority and supported us in so many different ways,” said Pete Hjelmstad, field services coordinator for the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Mason City office. “Other agencies that played a large part in making this happen include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, the Wisconsin DOT, the City of Lansing, the Village of De Soto, Maiden Voyage Tours, Luxxor Limousine, Running Inc., and EARL Public Transit.”

To read the full article, pick up the Wednesday, April 3, 2024 print edition of The Standard or subscribe to our e-edition by clicking here.