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MnDOT to upgrade St. Paul’s High Bridge

Brian Johnson//July 29, 2015

MnDOT to upgrade St. Paul’s High Bridge

Brian Johnson//July 29, 2015

With help from an upcoming deck reconstruction project, the Minnesota Department of Transportation hopes to squeeze more life out of the 28-year-old Smith Avenue High Bridge in St. Paul.

But the project, scheduled for the 2018 construction season, will require some patience on the part of the motorists who use the busy half-mile-long crossing over the Mississippi River heading in and out of downtown St. Paul.

The bridge work is part of an estimated $20 million project that includes new surfaces for Smith Avenue and Dodd Road, also known as Highway 149, between West Seventh Street in St. Paul and Interstate 494 in Mendota Heights.

MnDOT says the project will close the two-lane bridge for an entire season. About 12,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day, MnDOT project manager Tara McBride said.

McBride said a full closure was deemed necessary because the 54-foot-wide bridge is too narrow to allow even a single lane to stay open during construction. The bridge carries one lane of traffic in each direction.

The project will likely be let for construction bids in October or November 2017, though an official date hasn’t been set.

At one point MnDOT had the project penciled in for 2017. But as part of its “internal funding discussions,” MnDOT pushed the schedule back a year, which allows more time for public involvement, McBride said.

MnDOT plans three public meetings to get input from the community, including thoughts about priorities for different modes of transportation, McBride said. The first is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 24, at the Bad Weather brewery, 414 W. Seventh St. in St. Paul.

McBride said the public has expressed a desire to improve bike and pedestrian accommodations. The existing bridge doesn’t officially have dedicated bike lanes, but bicyclists use 8-foot-wide shoulders in both directions.

The bridge’s deck is 160 feet above the river, making it the highest bridge in St. Paul. It opened to traffic in 1987, about three years after the original high bridge was closed because of safety concerns.

Some deterioration is showing up on the concrete deck, but it’s “nothing critical by any means at this point,” McBride said.

Crews will reconstruct the deck, resurface Smith Avenue and Dodd Road/Highway 149, and improve drainage, sidewalk and pedestrian accommodations, according to the project’s website.

In addition, workers will replace signals at five intersections and construct an additional left turn lane from westbound I-494 to southbound Dodd Road.

Mendota Heights has more than a passing interest in the work.

The project includes a rehab of Highway 149, which cuts through Mendota Heights, so the city is “in pretty close contact with MnDOT on those details,” said John Mazzitello, public works director for Mendota Heights.

Moreover, Mendota Heights hopes to piggyback on the project to include some improvements to a trail along Highway 149, including construction of a new section that would close a gap, he said.

By lumping in the trail work in with the larger MnDOT project, the city hopes to take advantage of some economies of scale that would make the work cheaper than if the city did it separately, he said.

The project will be paid for with proceeds from the Chapter 152 transportation funding package approved by state lawmakers in 2008.

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