Nothing is final yet and many questions remain but a few details did come out of the recent online public meeting regarding the Blatnik Bridge replacement project. A joint meeting coordinated by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Transportation on January 12 outlined some of what is known about the project and some of what isn't.  And while nothing is final (preliminary designs aren't even expected until 2024 to 2026), the meeting did give the general public a sense of what the two agencies are considering as part of the scope of the work.

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What's known so far is where the points of discussion lay:

  • Is the replacement necessary (i.e. does the Twin Ports need two major bridge structures crossing the St. Louis River)
  • What kind of replacement would be necessary:  Will in be in the same location, or a different one; will it be completely replaced or will parts of the existing bridge structure be re-utilized
  • Is a tunnel a possibility or not?
  • What about pedestrian lanes or bike lanes?

As stated above, no specific particulars have been determined at this time.  The meeting did shine the light, though on many of these topics.  According to news sources here's what is known about each of the considerations:

  • Is it necessary:  WISDOT officials shared how they're performing internal evaluations on each of the potential plans. Along the way, they're considering cost, need, future maintenance, and impact to local traffic.
  • Type of replacement:  Many factors play into this discussion.  Moving the bridge to a new or alternative location wouldn't be easy.  A simple look at the map shows that there simply aren't a lot of alternate locations that a major bridge could be built (along with all of the on and off ramps that would be necessary to feed it).  So if the location remains, then what happens with the existing bridge; do they demolish it entirely and re-build from the bottom up or do they try to re-use existing parts of it (keep the footings but replace the main span and truss arch).
  • Tunnel: While WISDOT Northwest Region Deputy Director Jessica Felix said during the meeting that a tunnel was "probably not likely", she also shared that "[i]nternally we have posed the question".  The idea hasn't been entirely ruled out and it will "continue to be looked at".  One conflict that a tunnel crossing would pose is "where do you exit on the other side?"
  • Bike and pedestrian lanes:  These continue to remain a part of design discussions but they might pose a problem - especially if WISDOT and MNDOT decide to keep existing structures and just re-build in the same spot; that would mean that the bridge wouldn't be getting any wider so it would be hard (if not impossible) to accommodate a bike or pedestrian lane.

The preliminary timelines suggested by both agencies continue to hold pretty firm.  Preliminary design for the bridge project will occur between 2024 and 2026.  A final design process would run 2026 to 2028.  Final construction would happen 2028 to 2031.

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