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Discover
how Wisconsin protects waterways by holding them in trust for everyone to enjoy.
Find
the permits you need for your waterfront property projects.
Learn
about the permit process that protects public waters.

Waterway protection Bridges

Crossing a waterway can be done in many ways, one of which can involve a bridge.

Clear span bridge

Clear span bridge


For the purposes of protecting the public trust when starting a waterway crossing project, a bridge, as defined by law, is considered to be "any structure constructed in or over a navigable waterway to provide a walkway or roadway for pedestrians, animals or vehicles, and includes pipe arches and culverts."

Although the legal definition of a bridge includes culverts, the Wisconsin DNR has created a separate page with information on culverts. Please visit the culverts section of our website, if your project involves culverts and not bridges.

A permit is required to place a new bridge over a navigable waterway. The department has developed steps that should help identify a clear course of action to take if you want to build a new bridge OR if you need to rebuild a bridge affected by a natural disaster. If you need to construct a temporary crossing for forestry related activities, please visit our temporary in-stream crossing page.

Determine permit required

This is a text link version of our bridges interactive question and answer module. If you are seeing this message, you currently have JavaScript disabled or are in compatibility mode while using Internet Explorer. This text version is here to help you understand if you need a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for your bridge project, and if so, which one. Please go through and answer each question. This will help you determine which permit you will need.

Question 1 :

Will your bridge be part of a Municipal highway project or State Department of Transportation highway project?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

Your project requires a review by DNR. There is no fee required.

For more information on these types of projects, please contact the transportation liaison staff who manage the review transportation projects.

A general permit is available for the construction, reconstruction or maintenance of a county, village, city or town highway, bridge or culvert. This permit will also allow wetland impacts up to 10,000 square feet if it meets the conditions of the general permit. Please visit the General permits page to apply.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

If your answer is "No” go to Question 2.

Question 2 :

What do you want to do?

If your answer is "Build a new bridge” go to Question 3.

If your answer is "Rebuild a bridge after a flood or natural disaster” go to Question 8.

If your answer is "Build a temporary bridge” go to Question 5.

Question 3 :

Will your new bridge completely span across a waterway that is less than 35 feet wide with no support pilings in the waterway below the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM)?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 4.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You will need to apply for a bridge individual permit.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please review the diagram below to understand how to measure the width of the waterway, place pilings for a clear span bridge, and what a clear span bridge looks like.
Bridge diagram

Question 4 :

Will the bridge be located on a wild river (as designated by Wis Stats 30.26 and NR 302)?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

You will need to apply for a bridge individual permit.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You will need to apply for a clear span bridge general permit.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please use our Surface Water Data Viewer - Designated Waters to find your location and to determine what the water body designation is for the water body where your project is located. Once you know this information you may return to the previous question and answer it to continue. (If you are unsure about using the Designated Waters Search tool visit our tutorial to learn how.)

Question 5 :

Will your temporary bridge be used to access an area for forest management activities?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 6.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

If you wish to install a temporary-in-stream crossing on a stream that is wider than 10 feet, you have a few options:

  1. Go back to Question 2 and choose "Build a new bridge" to determine if you are eligible for a clear span bridge general permit;
  2. Visit Fords to determine if your project meets the standards of crossing a waterway using this method;
  3. Apply for an individual permit.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please review the diagram below to understand how to measure the width of the waterway, place pilings for a clear span bridge, and what a clear span bridge looks like.

Bridge Diagram

Question 6 :

Will the temporary bridge span a navigable stream that is less than 10 feet wide?

If your answer is "Yes” go to Question 7.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

You will need to apply for a bridge individual permit.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department's checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please review the diagram below to understand how to measure the width of the waterway.

Bridge Diagram

Question 7 :

Will the temporary bridge be located on a wild river (as designated by Wis Stats 30.26 and NR 302)?

You've answered Yes.

If your answer is “Yes,”:

A temporary crossing over a navigable waterway that is on a wild river requires a bridges individual permit.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department's checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

You've answered No.

If your answer is “No,”:

Based on your answers, you are eligible for a General Permit to place a temporary in-stream crossing. Please visit the General permits page to apply.

*Please note: WAMS ID and password needed to apply. If you do not have a WAMS ID, you must register for one prior to proceeding.

Please note that there are additional permit standards you must meet before the department may approve the permit. Please review the additional standards, found in the department’s checklist [PDF] prior to applying for a permit.

Additionally the department has sample drawing [1] [PDF] and sample drawing [2] [PDF] to help you submit a complete application.

Please be aware there may be additional general permit standards you must meet while placing your temporary crossing. For example:

  1. On trout streams identified under s. NR 1.02 (7) and navigable tributaries to those trout streams, the temporary crossing must include a culvert with a minimum diameter of 12 inches.
  2. The temporary in-stream crossing shall be removed after the forest management activity is completed or after being installed for 160 days, whichever occurs first.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

You've answered I don't know.

If your answer is “I don't know,”:

Please use our Surface Water Data Viewer - Designated Waters to find your location and to determine what the water body designation is for the water body where your project is located. Once you know this information you may return to the previous question and answer it to continue. (If you are unsure about using the Designated Waters Search tool visit our tutorial to learn how.)

Question 8 :

What do you want to do?

If your answer is "Rebuild a private bridge” go to Question 9.

If your answer is "Rebuild a public bridge” go to Question 12.

Question 9 :

If your project is in a state or federally declared disaster area, most times a governor's executive order gives the department the authority to expedite the approval of your project if it falls into one or both of these categories. Does your private bridge project:

If your answer is "Provide protection of human health and safety” go to Question 10.

If your answer is "Have a previously issued activity permit” go to Question 11.

Question 10 :

If regulated activities must be done immediately to protect human health and safety or resolve an ongoing environmental problem, you must notify the local DNR water management specialist or conservation warden directly.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

Question 11 :

DNR approval is typically required for repair/replacement of public owned roads, bridges or culverts on navigable waterways. Does your public bridge project:

If your answer is "Need to have temporary repairs immediately for emergency access” go to Question 13.

If your answer is "Replace a previous bridge to pre-disaster conditions for non-emergency access” go to Question 14.

Question 12 :

If the project was previously issued a permit by the DNR, you can restore or rebuild to the dimensions specified by the original permit. This includes the replacement of previously authorized bridges, culverts or streambank protection projects. Be sure to follow all applicable permit conditions.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

Question 13 :

If DOT or local governments need to do something immediately for emergency access, they may make the temporary repairs to get the bridge open and begin to remove the damaged parts and prep the site for their pending permanent repair. Debris and sediment must be disposed of outside waterways, wetlands and floodplains.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

Question 14 :

If the the proposed improvement is to repair or replace the bridge to pre-flood conditions in-kind and at the same location, and includes best management practices for erosion control, DNR review will be simplified and expedited.

As always before starting any project please make sure that there are no federal or local regulations that prohibit the construction of a bridge in your location.

Exemptions

  • There are no exemptions for bridges.

Laws

Applicable statutes and codes include Section 30.123, Wis. Stats. [PDF exit DNR] and Chapter NR 320 [PDF exit DNR].

Local permits and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulations may also apply. We advise you to contact your local zoning office and your regional U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office [exit DNR].

Last revised: Tuesday August 01 2017