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MnDOT sets open house on relighting the Blatnik Bridge

This lighting option under consideration outlines the Blatnik Bridge and is similar to the bridge's past lighting. (Artist rendering courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Transportation)1 / 2
This illuminated design lighting option appears to light the Blatnik Bridge from the inside out, with light glowing from under the deck and behind beams but not marking the outside of the steel frame.(Artist rendering courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Transportation)2 / 2

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will host a public open house Aug. 29 on the future lighting for the Blatnik Bridge spanning the harbor between Duluth and Superior.

The decorative lights outlining the bridge's main arch were rusting and failing when they were shut off and removed this year during construction on the bridge. Highway officials, who once considered turning the lights off permanently, now are considering options for replacing the old system sometime in 2013.

The public is being asked to weigh in at the open house, where MnDOT will show drawings of several lighting designs.

One of those options appears to light the bridge from the inside out, with light glowing from under the deck and behind beams but not marking the outside of the steel frame. In other words, you see the light but not the lights.

The light fixtures in that option would be tucked into protected areas of the bridge to keep them away from rain, snow and the salty wash from snowplows, said Beth Petrowske, regional spokeswoman for MnDOT.

Lighting designers call it "wash lighting" where the light bathes or washes over the structure, she said.

"There will be drawings of several options, including what it would look like if we did the same as it was before,'' Petrowske noted.

Wisconsin highway officials and Minnesota Power lighting experts also helped develop options.

The open house is set for 5-8 p.m. at the MnDOT office, 1123 Mesaba Ave. in Duluth, conference rooms A and B. Presentations about the lighting design alternatives will be held at 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to

Wisconsin officials at one time balked at the lighting replacement cost, which the states generally have split. But when highway officials considered scrapping the decorative lighting due to cost and technical issues -- they aren't necessary for safety and tended to rust and fail repeatedly -- many residents and local officials complained that a nighttime landmark would be lost.

Petrowske said the question is no longer if the bridge will be relit, but how.

"When we think of the Twin Ports, two communities operating as one, we think of the Blatnik as the bridge that ties us together," state Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said in a statement this week. "I am encouraged to see that the Departments of Transportation in both Minnesota and Wisconsin have agreed to find cost-effective ways to re-install the bridge's landmark lighting."

Meanwhile, the Duluth-bound lanes of the bridge will remain closed until Aug. 27, at which point they will reopen and the Superior-bound lanes will close until October.

The bridge is undergoing a $13 million rehabilitation project that started in May and will continue until October 2013.

In addition to the lighting project, work includes repairing and strengthening gusset plates on the bridge's main span to improve the load-carrying capacity of the bridge; sandblasting and painting the main span to protect the steel from corrosion; replacing the concrete traffic rail on the main span with a thinner, lighter-weight rail to reduce the overall weight on the bridge; and replacing the bridge deck expansion joints. The existing joints are leaking, causing water and salt damage to the structural steel members.

The cost of the lighting will be in addition to the other improvements. The new lighting should be installed by October 2013, when the construction job is complete.