The Merrimac Ferry (Colsac III) that shuttles Highway 113 traffic across the Wisconsin River between Sauk and Columbia counties closed for the season Monday.
The early season end stems from the need for Columbia County to finish seasonal maintenance, such as replacing hydraulic motors, filters and valves throughout the ferry. It also needs to be prepared for painting and have maintenance completed by Dec. 15, when it is scheduled for exterior painting, said Brian Rice, an engineer for the state Department of Transportation.
“We have to have everything stripped off the boat by the start, so all of our standard maintenance that we usually have a month or two to do needs to be done by this time,” said Rice.
The work will include painting the ferry’s exterior above the waterline, and some spot repairs on the pontoon and hull sections, said Columbia County Highway Commissioner Chris Hardy.
The ferry’s exterior has only been repainted once since it first launched in 2003.
The county will also be doing some bigger repairs in the off season including replacing a large drive cable pulley and bearings, said Hardy.
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Other large repairs include replacing the drive wheel. This will be the second time since the ferry became operational the drive wheel has been replaced due to wearing out from regular use.
While Rice says there is no set time for when the ferry closes for the season, the mid-November date this year is earlier than usual, as the Department of Transportation officially closes the boat for the season when weather and water conditions become unsafe.
In 2018, the ferry closed Nov. 30 and in 2017 the season ended Dec. 10, and on Dec. 30 in 2015. When the ferry is running, it operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and holds up to 15 vehicles as well as bikes and pedestrians. In 2018, 239,783 vehicles made the seven-minute trip across the river on the ferry.
“We’ve gone with a safety-based approach, running it as long as we can launch the safety boat if we were to break down, so we could still get people off of the ferry,” said Rice. “We can usually make it to the end November, sometimes we run into mid or late December.”
Hardy says that the early onset cold and snow in October and November this year did not have a significant impact on the operation or end of season for the ferry.
“Other than normal weather issues, strong winds and ice formations, the wet season and early cold have not significantly impacted the operation of the ferry.” said Hardy.