The design for Winona’s new two-lane interstate bridge could be finalized this month, the latest in a series of steps scheduled this year to allow construction to begin as planned in summer 2014.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation, along with the engineering and consulting firms working on the project, recommended in June what’s known as a concrete box girder bridge, an open design without a truss.
The minimalist design was recommended because it will have little impact on the view or historic elements of the existing bridge, and because it’s significantly cheaper to maintain over the course of its projected 100-year lifespan, said MnDOT project manager Terry Ward.
It was chosen over two other options: An arch design, which would include a single arch in the center of the span, and a cable-stayed version.
MnDOT will hold a public meeting Aug. 12 on the design and other elements of the project, and the Winona City Council is expected to vote Aug. 19 on approving the design, which would send it along to the federal government for a final sign-off.
City and community leaders have been generally supportive of the design, though the support isn’t unanimous.
Winona Mayor Mark Peterson said he’s in favor of the design, and has heard the same from city residents.
“Really, few people have told me that they don’t like the box girder design that MnDOT’s proposing,” Peterson said. “The design that they’re proposing really doesn’t change the skyline of Winona.”
Winona County commissioner Greg Olson, who sits on the public advisory committee for the bridge, said he has concerns about the box girder design.
“The city is giving up four blocks of taxable parcels in the city for the next 150 years,” Olson said.
“I’d hope that we would have more say on the design of the bridge that we’re all going to look at,” he added.
Others have criticized the design by saying it’s a low-cost option compared to the more elaborate alternatives, but Ward said that’s an erroneous comparison.
“It’s not a cheap bridge at all,” he said of the box girder design, the same used as the replacement for the Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007. “It’s a high-quality bridge.”
Winona Area Chamber of Commerce President Della Schmidt said that while design is important, the ultimate focus needs to remain on providing reliable interstate transportation, building the new bridge and fixing the existing one as soon as possible.
“The Chamber’s position ... has always been about the uninterrupted safe flow of traffic, both commercial and commuter,” Schmidt said.
The design isn’t final, though by this point in the process, choosing a different one would significantly delay the project, Ward said.
Ward, who has worked on several bridge projects, including the Interstate 35W replacement, said conflict over design is common. He said he’s never seen an instance when a community universally agrees on a single look to a bridge.
“Bridges tend to bring out the passion in people,” Ward said.
New committee formed to set details of bridge
MnDOT will finalize the membership of the Visual Quality Committee later this month, a group of 10-12 volunteer community members and public officials who will be tasked with choosing several design elements.
The committee will look at options for lighting, railings, colors and several other details, as well as whether to include additional options, like an observation outlook off the span’s bike path.
The committee’s budget hasn’t been finalized, and will likely shift as it makes decisions, Ward said. He said the plan is for the committee to meet a half-dozen times or so and have final recommendations done by early next year.
“It really is a very important committee to the process,” Ward said, adding: “I’m really excited about the people who have sent their names in.”
Construction method will allow project to move in phases, keep traffic lanes open
MnDOT will build the bridge using what’s known as the Construction Manager General Contractor model, the first time it’s been used in the state, Ward said.
The project will follow a process that involves hiring a contractor during the design phase, rather than using a traditional bid-and-build model. Ward said the goal is to improve communication among agencies and allow contractors to provide insight into the project from a broad level.
The model will allow construction to progress in three distinct phases.
In the first phase, tentatively scheduled to begin at the earliest in July 2014, crews will build the supports and infrastructure for the bridge in the Mississippi River. The new two-lane span would be built during the second phase. During both, traffic would continue to move as normal on the existing span.
The third phase, tentatively set for fall 2016, would be rehabilitating the existing bridge, at which point traffic would move to one lane in each direction on the new bridge.
Property acquisitions beginning
MnDOT has finalized a list of 22 properties in downtown Winona it plans to fully seize in order to obtain the right-of-way it needs to build the bridge, and has notified all the owners.
The list includes the AmericInn, the Severson Sinclair gas station, the Dahl (formerly Walz) Chevrolet, Buick and GMC dealership, and Winona Rental, as well as several single-family homes and rental properties. Some of the businesses, like Dahl and Winona rental, own multiple properties that will be acquired.
Notable properties near the bridge that aren’t on the list are Timbers Restaurant, the YMCA, the historic Huff-Lamberton home, county office buildings and the law enforcement center and courthouse.
MnDOT also plans to partially acquire small portions from a few number of properties, including along the driveway that leads to the garage in back of the Law Enforcement Center on West Fourth Street, and get temporary easements for construction in other areas, including the sliver of city-owned land under the existing bridge that abuts the river.
MnDOT expects to spend between $12 million and $20 million buying the properties. There’s no definitive timeline for the process, but MnDOT hopes to have all purchases finalized by early 2015.
Ward said any delays in the process won’t halt the first phase of construction.