The Minnesota Department of Transportation has recommended building a new two-lane interstate bridge across the Mississippi River, adjacent to the existing span.
The second bridge would be built upstream of the existing one, MnDOT announced Thursday afternoon. It would connect near the intersection of Fourth and Winona streets, and at the other end of the river at Latsch Island.
The project would not include any closures, something officials had long requested. Once the new bridge is finished, the existing one would be rehabilitated, and both would remain open.
“Hopefully with this decision, we’ll have a project that is kind of a win-win for everybody concerned, and that we get a safe, functional bridge, a four-lane project that will last us well into the future,” Winona Mayor Jerry Miller said.
Exact plans for the approach in Winona and other details aren’t yet known. Winona Area Chamber of Commerce president Della Schmidt said her organization will work with affected property owners as plans are finalized.
“We fully expect MnDOT and Winona to work fairly and equitably with any impacted property owners to make sure that they are appropriately compensated if their property has to be acquired,” Schmidt said.
Thursday’s announcement ended years of speculation about rehabilitation plans for Winona’s existing 70-year-old span, which has been declared structurally deficient and was closed the first half of June 2008 after inspectors discovered corroded gusset plates.
MnDOT had considered several alternative plans, including simply fixing the existing bridge, but eventually chose the proposal to build a second span after all involved — ranging from public officials to the state’s historic preservation office — agreed it was the most efficient plan that will also preserve some of the existing bridge’s historic elements.
The announcement also represented a long-awaited victory for several local, state and federal officials who had advocated for the second span, including U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Winona Mayor Jerry Miller and others. Many offered praise Thursday for the bipartisan spirit and collaboration that led to the recommendation.
“We built a strong coalition of business and community leaders and made the case for a four-lane solution that would meet the needs of both citizens and businesses in Winona,” Walz said in a statement. “These efforts will ensure Winona’s economic growth and prosperity for generations to come.”
Winona state lawmakers Rep. Gene Pelowski and Sen. Jeremy Miller issued a joint statement Thursday celebrating the decision.
“Elected officials from all levels of government came together to ensure that the needs of those crossing this essential transportation link were addressed properly,” Miller said in the statement.
“Winona needs a new bridge, plain and simple,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a statement. “I will continue to work with local, state and federal officials to move the project forward and ensure that construction begins on time.”
The real work is now just beginning.
Design, engineering and right-of-way acquisition is expected to be completed by late 2014, with construction beginning in 2015.
Mayor Jerry Miller said he hopes MnDOT can find ways to speed up the process.
“We’d all like to have it done quicker,” Miller said.
“It’s a relief to at least know that we’re on the right path now and we can start working from here.”