After more than four years of construction, the $130 million Highway 52 Lafayette Bridge in St. Paul is finally a wrap.
Though some final construction details remain, the bridge is now in full service and project supporters celebrated that milestone Tuesday during an event at Metropolitan State University.
“I know projects take a long time, but, wow, this really took a long time,” Charlie Zelle, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said in the university’s Great Hall, which afforded views of the new bridge. “And it was well worth the wait.”
Getting to this point wasn’t easy. A need to keep traffic flowing during construction, the sheer size of the bridge and its busy urban location over the Mississippi River and near the Holman Field airstrip complicated the plans.
Lights on the bridge are lower than usual because of the nearby airstrips, and the piers had to be placed in just the right locations to accommodate the shipping traffic on the river, Zelle said.
The project also had the misfortune of being interrupted by the 20-day government shutdown in July 2011. More than 80 projects with a combined construction value of $1 billion had compensable claims stemming from the shutdown. As of June, MnDOT says it has paid out about $33 million on contractor claims related to the shutdown. That includes an “interim” payment of $326,430 to Black River Falls, Wisconsin-based Lunda Construction for its work on the Lafayette project. MnDOT designed the project.
Zelle said Tuesday that the shutdown was disruptive to all MnDOT projects.
“But I think the plan all along was to take our time, do it right and keep traffic moving,” he said of the Lafayette project. “We have other projects where we know it makes sense for us to be really disruptive, but do it fast.”
The new Lafayette Bridge replaced a “fracture critical structure” built in 1968. The new 3,200-foot-long bridge includes separate northbound and southbound spans with two through lanes in each direction, an anti-icing system and a bicycle/pedestrian trail on the new northbound bridge.
As part of the project, MnDOT also modified and realigned the Highway 52 bridges over Interstate 94, re-decked the Highway 52 bridges over Plato Boulevard and Eaton Street, and upgraded the Concord Street bridge.
Traffic has been running on the new northbound bridge since February 2014. Construction of the southbound structure began in 2014. Final construction details are expected to wrap by the end of the month.
The new bridge will provide increased capacity, a safer crossing, and improved access.
Minnesota’s 10-year, $6.6 billion “Chapter 152” transportation funding package from 2008 provided the bulk of the funding for the project. The bill was passed the year after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
Like the I-35W bridge, the old Lafayette Bridge was fracture critical, which means it didn’t have redundant supporting elements.
St. Paul Mayor Chis Coleman said the old bridge was in “dire straits” and in serious need of replacement.
“When the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, I remember … saying, ‘quite frankly, this is the one that we were more worried about,’” Coleman said at Tuesday’s event.
Coleman said the new bridge is “an amazing project because of the connections that it makes between the East Side, downtown, and over to the West Side.”
“Across the city of St. Paul, we are not exactly landlocked, but with our bluffs and our river, there are only so many points of entry” into downtown, he said. When those connections are cut off or restricted, “it really does have an impact on our economy,” he added.
With a major waterway, Holman Field, the Union Depot, light rail transit and bike and pedestrian trails nearby, the new bridge is part of a busy hub that typifies the concept of “multi-model” transportation, Zelle said.
“This is one of the few points where we can stand and see a larger vision of what transportation is for our state,” he said.
The northbound Highway 52 Lafayette Bridge was built between 2011 and 2013. A new southbound bridge was completed Tuesday. File photos show the bridge at various stages of construction. [portfolio_slideshow id=66454]