Tag Archives: Minnesota

Lights out for the Blatnik Bridge?

The iconic lights that outline the Blatnik Bridge linking Duluth and Superior will go dark and come down later this year during maintenance on the bridge.

Whether they return when the work is complete in 2013 is up in the air.

Corroded, in the way and “failing at an alarming rate,” the more than 200 decorative lights and their wiring have to be removed as part of a $12 million, two-year maintenance project on the bridge that’s slated to start in May, said Beth Petrowske, public affairs coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Duluth.

Putting the lights back up and replacing the wiring is estimated to cost $1.2 million. Minnesota generally splits costs with Wisconsin on Blatnik and Bong bridge projects, but the Blatnik’s decorative lights were a project initiated and paid for on the Minnesota side from the beginning back in the 1990s.

That’s the catch in replacing them.

MnDOT is “willing to cover and can commit to our 50 percent” of the replacement cost, or $600,000, said Duluth District Engineer Mike Tardy. But now, in a time of tight budgets and many other pending road projects, MnDOT says it wants Wisconsin — or some other source — to chip in for the other half.

“I understand that the decorative lights on the Blatnik are an important feature for the area,” Tardy said. “Our challenge is that the price tag to replace them is really substantial. The funding has to come from somewhere.”

To be clear, the lights in question do not include traffic lights and navigational beacons — only the bridge’s “aesthetic” lighting.

State Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, has gotten involved in the issue, reaching across the bridge to Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen and, in turn, officials from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in an attempt to find a solution.

“I was incredulous, (thinking) ‘this can’t be possible,’” Reinert said of when he first heard the lights might be going away. “In terms of Duluth landmarks, I think of the Lift Bridge, Enger Tower and the Blatnik. … The idea of it being gone is just flat-out not OK by me.”

As for WisDOT chipping in money toward the lighting, Chris Ouellette, communications manager for WisDOT’s Northwest Region, said, “We haven’t said yes, but we haven’t said no.

“Our department is in the process of drafting policy for decorative lighting and how funding for that type of project might work,” she said. That discussion is taking place in Madison, she said, and there might be more details to report this week.

Wisconsin Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, said he expects the lighting to be discussed during the annual Superior Days in Madison this week. But he said tight budgets may make it a tough sell.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Milroy said. “It’s something that a lot of people think is an amenity” instead of a necessity.

“When there’s not a lot of money to go around you have to prioritize what’s important,”

Reinert said the goal is for the two states to split costs. But if that doesn’t happen, he said, he and Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, have drafted a bill to require MnDOT to find the money to reinstall the lights. Both legislators said that’s an option they don’t want to use.

“We’re hoping that MnDOT will partner with WisDOT to get the money to get those lights back up,” Gauthier said.

The lights

The decorative lights on the Blatnik originated with a letter from Duluth businessman Monnie Goldfine to then-state Sen. Sam Solon in 1991, said longtime MnDOT spokesman John Bray, now retired after three decades with the agency.

“A lit-up Blatnik Bridge would be a symbol of uniting Duluth with Superior and would serve as a sign that we welcome visitors,” Goldfine wrote in another 1991 letter on the topic to city and state officials.

The letter was written as planning was under way for a massive overhaul of the Blatnik Bridge in 1993-94, when the span was completely closed to traffic for months.

The lights were installed and — after a long delay caused by water leaks into the fixtures — they officially debuted on Nov. 21, 1996.

Since that time, they’ve become a familiar sight in the Twin Ports — and they’ve been subjected to a lot of abuse from Mother Nature and passing traffic.

“The lights are exposed to the harshest environmental conditions that there can be: rain, wind, snow, salt that can cause corrosion … vibrations from heavy trucks. It’s pretty intensive maintenance,” Tardy said.

Now the fixtures have to come down to allow for sandblasting and painting of gusset plates this summer. They’ll be saved for possible reuse; the corroded conduit and wiring won’t be.

The annual expense of operating the lights is about $15,000 to $20,000 — also paid for entirely by Minnesota at present, though Tardy said that’s of less concern than splitting the more-significant restoration cost. There’s a chance operating costs could be reduced with the use of LEDs or other, newer lighting technology if the lights are reinstalled.

Tardy said he’s hoping the return of the Blatnik lights is less an “if” and more a matter of “when.”

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to make this work,” Tardy said.

SOURCE: http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/223396/

Plymouth Avenue bridge closed until next year

There’s good news and bad news for traffic users of the Plymouth Avenue Bridge. The good news is that city officials appear to have found the money needed to repair the bridge. The bad news is that it will probably be a year or more before the bridge is open to motor vehicle traffic.

Minneapolis City Engineer and Public Works Director Steven Kotke said most of the money is coming from the State of Minnesota. “We were successful in obtaining two different pots of money. One was kind of an emergency fund that the state had, and then the governor actually put in the state bonding bill $4 million for the Plymouth Bridge, and that gave us a grand total of right around $6 million, which is about what we think we need to fix the bridge.”

He said, however, that the various parts of the repair work need to be done in a certain order and in very close succession, and there’s not enough time to do it all this year. So they won’t be able to start the work until next year.

“The work needs to be sequenced in a continuous manner, so that would not allow us to do the work this fall and then stop for the winter and the start again,” he said. “We intend to get the project all bid out and start first thing in the spring. We’re anticipating it will be about four months worth of work, so that would put us probably near the end of August of 2012 to have the bridge completed and opened back up.

“So the good news is we were able to give everybody the green light to keep moving forward. It would have been nice if we could have started right away, but given the manner of the work that needs to be done, it would prevent that from happening,” he said.

“So we are continuing to finish the final design, and then it has to go through a state review process to make sure everything is right.”

The bridge crosses the Mississippi River and connects Eighth Avenue NE and Plymouth Avenue N. Motorists can cross the river using the Broadway Bridge six blocks to the north.

City engineers closed the Plymouth Avenue Bridge Oct. 22 after finding corrosion in its support system during a routine annual inspection. It was built in the 1980s and was the first of its kind—called post-tension segmental box girder—in Minnesota. City officials brought a consulting firm that specializes in this bridge design, to inspect the bridge and recommend repairs.

They found serious corrosion in at least five of the post-tension tendons in the bridge’s center span. These tendons, Kotke said earlier, are similar to the cables that support suspension bridges, and are designed to keep the bridge’s concrete parts pushing inward when a load is placed on the bridge surface. The concrete, he said, is strongest when it’s in this “compression mode.”

An initial report, issued in late December, recommended four major repairs:

  • Reconfigure the bridge’s drainage system to direct water away from the bridge’s box girders
  • Replace five of the bridge’s corroded support tendons
  • Add more tendons to improve the bridge’s flexing capability
  • Seal the bridge’s wearing surface with a penetrant sealer, or replace the wearing surface.

The bridge is currently open to pedestrians and bicyclists; bicyclists are asked to walk their bikes while on the bridge.

SOURCE: http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2011/08/14/plymouth-avennue-bridge-closed-until-next-year