Replacement Blatnik Bridge Could Move From Hammond Avenue
One thing is for sure: drivers who cross the St. Louis River will have an entirely different bridge (or tunnel) to use in addition to the Bong Bridge (and the Oliver Bridge) come 2031. But what that bridge option will look like - and especially where it connects on the Superior-side - are still up in the air.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation held a public information about the project on May 11. While a good majority of the details about the eventual bridge replacement remain largely undetermined at this time, a few singular items became apparent.
First - the issue of tunnels. According to the Superior Telegram, "[e]ach of the bridge options [the Minnesota Department of Transportation is considering] came with corresponding options to build tunnels rather than bridges". So to answer the big question that many have - no, they haven't ruled out tunnels. However, the possibility of a tunnel replacement poses challenges that will more-than-likely rule it out. Pat Huston - MNDOT's District 1 Major Projects Engineer explains:
"We want to have everything on the table and leave nothing unturned and everything's been gone through. However, challenges posed by tunnels - pedestrian and bike connectivity, traffic redirection, asset management and security, operational requirements and limitations on transporting hazardous materials - have removed them from future evaluation."
The second item that has come into focus then is the placement of a new bridge replacement. While there had been some early talk about rebuilding a new bridge on top of the existing footings and footprint, it seems like the option to build a different bridge structure is rising to the top; a new bridge built to the east or west of the existing Blatnik Bridge would "allow (it) to remain open during the three-year construction project".
Perhaps though - the most-interesting item to come out of the public session was the discussion about moving the approach and landing of the bridge on the Superior side. Right now, the Blatnik Bridge connects to Superior (and Wisconsin) via Hammond Avenue - a city street. There is a lot of growing talk about changing that - potentially connecting via the Highway 2 corridor to the east of the bridge, using the area where that highway currently connects to the Blatnik with an on-ramp. This new approach area would solve many problems but create others. Among the positives is that it corrects speed, traffic, and railroad-back-up issues that occur along Hammond Avenue; one of the biggest negatives to that plan would be the potential economic impact that it would have on the existing downtown business district in Superior.
One of the over-arching themes that came from MNDOT's public season, though was the call for input from the public. Huston added "[w]hat's hard on us is silence...we're looking for constructive feedback". There are still plenty of opportunities to offer feedback.
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