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Blatnik Bridge will get new lights

Blatnik Bridge (Photo by John Bray)

A tentative agreement has been reached to keep decorative lighting on the Blatnik Bridge linking Duluth and Superior. The question now is: Will it remain the same as the existing design, or become more like the Aerial Lift Bridge "wash" lighting that illuminates the whole span?

Until that decision is made, the big news is that the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation will split the $1.2 million cost of replacing the aging decorative lights and associated wiring as part of a larger, two-year maintenance project on the bridge.

MnDOT Project Development Engineer Dan Erickson said the money will come out of the transportation programs of each state.

"We have at least a verbal agreement between the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to be partners with the replacement cost of the lighting, which will each fund 50 percent of the total capital replacement costs," he said.

Minnesota generally splits costs with Wisconsin on Blatnik and Bong bridge projects, but the Blatnik's decorative lights -- separate from the traffic lights and navigational beacons -- were a project initiated and paid for on the Minnesota side from the beginning back in the 1990s. They have to be taken down as part of the larger bridge overhaul that starts this week, and -- in an era of tight budgets -- Minnesota officials balked at having to shoulder the entire expense of replacing them. They sought a 50-50 split of costs with Wisconsin.

There had been some talk that the lights -- which will go dark this month through 2013 while the larger bridge project is under way -- might not return if an agreement could not be reached. But Erickson said the public response in favor of keeping the decorative lighting was overwhelming.

"It's a part of Duluth-Superior and the area. We've become accustomed to the landmark structure and having it lit up in the decorative manner to kind of showcase our cities at night," he said.

Erickson said the $1.2 million figure includes new lighting and wiring.

"That would not entail any salvaging of the existing system," he said. "But as we move through the scoping of the project, we're looking to salvage some of the light fixtures. That would reduce the costs."

The choice between the current "outline" lighting and Aerial Lift Bridge-style "wash" lighting will be made depending on the cost and feedback from the public at an open house officials hope to hold this July.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Power is making energy efficiency recommendations that will reduce the operating costs. Right now the electrical costs are about $300 a month for the decorative lighting, with annual maintenance expenses at $10,000 to $15,000.

Duluth-bound lanes to close

The Duluth-bound lanes on the Blatnik Bridge will close on Monday as work begins on a two-year, $12 million rehabilitation project.

The lanes will remain closed until mid-summer. The bridge's southbound lanes will remain open during that time, although motorists may encounter brief, single-lane closures.

The Superior-bound lanes will close entirely when the Duluth-bound lanes reopen. The Superior-bound lanes will remain closed until October. During that time, Duluth-bound motorists will encounter brief single-lane closures.

The News Tribune contributed to this report. Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM, in Ashland at 97.7 FM or online at