Officials from the Wisconsin and Minnesota departments of transportation presented a bevy of options Tuesday, May 11, that could one day replace the Blatnik Bridge, including tunnels.
While all options would continue to use the Garfield interchange in Duluth, the options for Superior may or may not land on Hammond Avenue in the future.
Two options would use U.S. Highway 53 as the Superior approach to the new bridge: one in the vicinity of the existing onramp in the interchange and the other at Connors Point. One option does keep the approach on Hammond Avenue, but is likely to have the new bridge constructed east or west of the existing alignment.
That would allow the Blatnik Bridge to remain open during the three-year construction project expected to get underway in 2028, according to Pat Huston, MnDOT District 1 major projects engineer.
"We're building that foundation right now,” Huston said. “While 2028 may seem like it's a long ways away, it's really critical we get input now because this sets the course. And the further we drive the ship down the channel, the harder it is to change the course."
Each of the bridge options came with corresponding options to build tunnels rather than bridges.
"It's a question that we get quite often: Are we considering tunnels?” Huston said. “And the answer is 'yes.' We want to have everything on the table and leave nothing unturned and everything's been gone through."
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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, Huston said.
“The No. 1 reason that we are here is the bridge condition, specifically, the truss condition … in addition to that, we have other needs,” Huston said. “We have vehicle safety and critical crash rates. We have steep grades; we have very tight ramps, and we have an interstate highway that ends on a city street in Superior.”
Other issues, primarily in Superior, include icing issues on the approach, cross traffic at North Fifth Street and traffic backing up on the bridge when trains block Hammond Avenue, Huston said. Secondary needs include bike and pedestrian connective between Duluth and Superior, he said.
Moving the approach to U.S. Highway 53 could eliminate some of those issues but could pose other challenges.
“From the Wisconsin perspective, we also look at traffic flow in the city of Superior,” said Marc Bowker, WisDOT Northwest Region project manager. “Where is that traffic now? When it comes across the Blatnik Bridge, which kind of directs traffic to the downtown business district. The more we move that to the south and the east, it kind of directs traffic away from the downtown business district … we have to look at economic impacts of changing this.”
The public still has an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed routes for the new bridge. Huston said the public comment period is open until May 21.
“What's hard on us is silence … we're looking for constructive feedback,” Huston said.
To comment on the project, contact Huston at 218-348-9902 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Bowker at 615-635-4975 or email@example.com. An interactive map where people can leave comments is also available at dot.state. mn.us/d1/projects/blatnik-bridge.