MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation will seek nearly $889 million in federal funding to rebuild an aging bridge connecting the states.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced recently that they will pursue federal funding to rebuild the John A. Blatnik Bridge. which connects Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, via Interstate 535 over Lake Superior.
“On average, more than 30,000 cars travel across the bridge each day, and as such, it requires frequent repair projects and annual inspections,” Evers said in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “The Blatnik Bridge Reconstruction Project aims to completely replace or rehabilitate the bridge’s structural elements in order to restore it to good structural condition, enhance climate and weather resilience, redesign the bridge span and the Wisconsin approach to improve safety and efficiency, and add bicycle and pedestrian facilities to support non-vehicle mobility and recreation.”
- After 60 years of exposure to the environment, corrosion on the bridge’s truss sections is widespread and inaccessible to manage.
- Loss of plate thickness from rust and age requires limiting the maximum vehicle to 80,000 pounds on the bridge
- The pin and hanger system at each corner is non-redundant, prone to wear and does not meet current load standards.
- Navigation channel piers do not meet modern standards and are vulnerable to vessel impact.
- The existing ship protection devices (dolphins) are ineffective.
- Plate girder approach spans have strength deficiencies that result in additional load restrictions
“If the main trusses are not replaced in the next 10-15 years, there will be more load restrictions, increased inspections and added maintenance, which means more lane closures. Eventually, this would lead to a reduction to single lane in each direction, then a full bridge closure and finally bridge demolition,” according to MnDOT.
The John A. Blatnik Bridge was built in 1961 and is 1.5 miles in length, rising 120 feet above St. Louis Bay.
It serves as a key connection for freight and commercial traffic in the region as well as an important hub for shipping on the Great Lakes. Another bridge, the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge provides a second connection between Duluth and Superior but is not a good option. The next nearest crossing is 26 miles away with freight traffic having to detour 75 miles in Minnesota and 50 miles in Wisconsin.
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