Bridge could go dark without cooperationThe iconic lights that outline the Blatnik Bridge linking Duluth and Superior will go dark and come down later this year during maintenance on the bridge.
By: By Andrew Krueger/Duluth News Tribune , Superior Telegram
The iconic lights that outline the Blatnik Bridge linking Duluth and Superior will go dark and come down later this year during maintenance on the bridge.
Whether they return when the work is complete in 2013 is up in the air.
Corroded, in the way and “failing at an alarming rate,” the more than 200 decorative lights and their wiring have to be removed as part of a $12 million, two-year maintenance project on the bridge that’s slated to start in May, said Beth Petrowske, public affairs coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Duluth.
Putting the lights back up and replacing the wiring is estimated to cost $1.2 million. Minnesota generally splits costs with Wisconsin on Blatnik and Bong bridge projects, but the Blatnik’s decorative lights were a project initiated and paid for on the Minnesota side from the beginning back in the 1990s.
That’s the catch in replacing them.
MnDOT is “willing to cover and can commit to our 50 percent” of the replacement cost, or $600,000, said Duluth District Engineer Mike Tardy. But now, in a time of tight budgets and many other pending road projects, MnDOT says it wants Wisconsin — or some other source — to chip in for the other half.
“I understand that the decorative lights on the Blatnik are an important feature for the area,” Tardy said. “Our challenge is that the price tag to replace them is really substantial. The funding has to come from somewhere.”
To be clear, the lights in question do not include traffic lights and navigational beacons — only the bridge’s “aesthetic” lighting.
State Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, has gotten involved in the issue, reaching across the bridge to Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen, and in turn, officials from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in an attempt to find a solution.
“I was incredulous, (thinking) ‘this can’t be possible,’” Reinert said of when he heard the lights might be going away. “In terms of Duluth landmarks, I think of the Lift Bridge, Enger Tower and the Blatnik. … The idea of it being gone is just flat-out not OK by me.”
As for WisDOT chipping in money toward the lighting, WisDOT’s Northwest Region spokeswoman Chris Ouellette, said, “We haven’t said yes, but we haven’t said no.
“Our department is in the process of drafting policy for decorative lighting and how funding for that type of project might work,” she said. That discussion is taking place in Madison, she said, and there might be more details to report this week.
Wisconsin Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, said he expects the lighting to be discussed during the annual Superior Days in Madison this week. But he said tight budgets may make it a tough sell.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Milroy said. “It’s something that a lot of people think is an amenity” rather than a necessity.
Reinert said the goal is for the two states to split costs. But if that doesn’t happen, he said, he and Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, have drafted a bill to require MnDOT to find the money to reinstall the lights. Both legislators said it’s an option they don’t want to use.
“We’re hoping that MnDOT will partner with WisDOT to get the money to get those lights back up,” Gauthier said.