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Bridge project inches closer to reality

Jon Chiglo (left), project director for the Stillwater bridge project, and David Solberg, bridge project manager, were in Hudson on Friday to provide an update on the progress of the St. Croix River Crossing.

While actual completion of the new St. Croix River Crossing is years away, that doesn't mean progress toward its eventual construction is slow.

There's quite a bit of activity going on right now that is setting the stage for full-scale construction of the span.

Minnesota Department of Transportation's Jon Chiglo, project director for the Stillwater bridge project, and David Solberg, bridge project manager with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, were in Hudson on Friday to update the media about the steps being taken to prepare for the start of the project.

About a permit a week is now being secured by officials assigned to the crossing, Chiglo said. The bridge requires more than 70 permits from various state and federal agencies before work can officially begin. The most important permit of all, the federal 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has not yet been received but is expected to be approved in the coming months.

As the permit process continues, Chiglo said there are plenty of things that both the Minnesota and Wisconsin DOTs can accomplish while they wait.

Load testing, which began in June, has been completed and the news is good along that front. Results indicate that the bridge foundations and piers will only need to be 130 feet below the surface of the water, compared to an earlier estimate of 160 feet.

The positive test results also indicate that the bridge will only require five piers, versus six piers that were originally planned.

"It's saved us millions of dollars ... easily millions of dollars," Chiglo said, noting that the $3.5 million spent on load testing resulted in an impressive return on investment.

DOT officials are also buoyed by reports that the bridge construction process will likely have negligible impact on the surrounding environment.

"We can do this work with minimal or no disturbance to the water quality of the St. Croix," Chiglo reported.

The actual design process for the bridge is moving forward nicely, according to Chiglo. HDR and Buckland and Taylor were chosen as the architectural and engineering firms that will lead the design effort, but DOT engineers are working closely with those firms to make sure everything follows the necessary specifications.

"We're spending $1 million a month on getting that (the design) completed," Chiglo said.

Recently the schedule for constructing the piers was moved up several months. Foundation work is now expected to begin in the late spring of 2013. Previously the piers were scheduled to be constructed in the spring of 2014.

As the piers are constructed next spring and summer, Chiglo said, there will likely be some boating restrictions in place along the St. Croix River. No wake zones will be instituted south of the existing Stillwater bridge to limit the potential disturbance of construction activities.

Some of the preliminary work along Minnesota Highway 36 will start next spring, including installation of an abutment and parking lot near several local businesses.

Construction of the approaches on both the Wisconsin and Minnesota sides of the project will start fairly soon as well. Wisconsin hopes to purchase all of the land it needs for its approaches and the Highway 64 extension by April or May of 2013. The construction of the roadway from Highway 35 to the new bridge will likely begin in early 2014, according to Solberg.

Once the piers and foundations are completed, construction of the actual span will likely also start in 2014. The bridge will be made up of 600 individual segments that will be 10 feet long, 44 feet wide and 18 feet tall.

The segments will be constructed in a fabrication facility that will be located either in Wisconsin or Minnesota, but a site has yet to be selected. The Wisconsin side is favorable, because there is more available land for such a facility, Chiglo said. But the Wisconsin side is less favorable from a topography standpoint, as the 150-ton segments would have to be transported down the 250-foot bluffs to the river.

Last week, the endangered "dotted blazing star" flower was being transplanted on the Wisconsin side of the river, one of several environmental steps required prior to the bridge getting underway. A total of 35 species of plants in the project area need to be transplanted due to their sensitive nature.

The estimated completion date for the entire bridge project is the fall of 2016, but Chiglo said if things continue to progress as they have, that date may move up.

"It may allow us, in the end, to finish it earlier," he said optimistically. "We're always looking for opportunities to advance the work."

The St. Croix Crossing project replaces the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge with a safer, more reliable four-lane bridge that will connect expressways on both sides of the St. Croix River in Stillwater and Oak Park Heights, Minn. and St. Joseph, Wis.

The project adds trail systems, including converting the Stillwater Lift Bridge to a bicycle and pedestrian crossing. It also includes constructing three miles of four-lane highway on Highway 35 Wisconsin and reconstructing about three miles of Highway 36 and Highway 95 in Minnesota.

The four-lane St. Croix Crossing Bridge is estimated to cost between $280 million and $310 million. The total cost for the entire St. Croix Crossing project is estimated to cost between $580 million and $676 million.