ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) Transportation officials said April 10 they would start work this year on a replacement for the Highway 23 bridge that was abruptly closed in March because of bent gusset plates.
Officials had been weighing whether to repair or replace the bridge. Flawed gusset plates are blamed in part for last year’s collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis that killed 13 people.
State bridge engineer Dan Dorgan said replacement will cost about $35 million, compared with just $325,000 for repairs that could have been done in about seven weeks. But he said the deciding factor was that the replacement work could coincide with other improvements already planned for Highway 23, ultimately meaning less disruption for commuters.
The project is due to start in September, with completion in November 2009.
“It’s a great day for St. Cloud,” Mayor Dave Kleis said at a news conference about 50 yards from the bridge.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation also announced plans to accelerate replacement of the deteriorating Highway 61 bridge at Hastings, the state’s busiest two-lane highway bridge. Acting Transportation Commissioner Bob McFarlin said the department’s goal is to get the Hastings bridge under contract by 2010.
Both announcements came as MnDOT unveiled its 2008 construction schedule, a total of 135 road and bridge projects worth $441 million.
MnDOT closed the Highway 23 bridge March 20 after inspectors found slight bowing in four of its gussets, the steel plates that connect the bridge’s girders.
Dorgan acknowledged at the time that the Minneapolis collapse affected the decision. Both steel-truss bridges had design similarities.
The NTSB has determined the gussets on the 35W bridge were too thin, though it is still working to determine what caused the span to fall Aug. 1.
Dorgan said in March that the gussets on the St. Cloud bridge were the proper thickness, but he suspected the bridge had borne too much weight. NTSB investigators went to the bridge after it closed to see what lessons they could apply to their study of the 35W disaster.
The Highway 23 bridge, also known as the DeSoto bridge, was built in 1957. The four-lane span carried 31,000 vehicles a day. It was scheduled for replacement in 2015, and MNDOT had been considering accelerating the timetable to 2010 even before the emergency closure.
After ordering the closure, MnDOT engineers began considering whether it was feasible to make temporary fixes to tide the city over until a replacement could be built. Local officials had urged the state to replace it sooner rather than later so the work would coincide with improvements scheduled for Highway 23 and shorten the construction cycle.
Democratic Sen. Tarryl Clark, whose district includes the bridge, praised the decision to replace it fast.
“Since the bridge was shut down abruptly on March 20, there’s been anxiety about what was going to happen, and how long it was going to take,” Clark said. “Because there are now resources available, we can announce the reconstruction of a new bridge just three weeks after it closed.”
The Legislature approved a $6.6 billion, 10-year transportation finance plan that draws the money from a higher gas tax, increased metropolitan sales taxes and extra vehicle registration fees. The bill designated money to fix Minnesota bridges in poor condition.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty had vetoed the measure, but the DFL-controlled Legislature overrode him with the help of eight Republicans.
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