From Minnesota to Wisconsin: Bridge work revs up
A giant map dominates the wall in Jon Chiglo's office at the recently opened St. Croix Crossing headquarters in Stillwater, Minn.
The map shows the details of a huge excavation and construction project that will transform the local landscape over the next four years. After decades of planning and political challenges, this summer marks the beginning of the actual work on the approaches and new bridge between Houlton and Oak Park Heights, Minn.
The headquarters office is full of activity as the project details are worked out among state officials, contractors, local municipalities, businesses and residents.
Chiglo, the Minnesota Department of Transportation project manager for the new bridge at Stillwater, said construction activity in the St. Croix River and on the Minnesota side of the river will really begin to pick up starting this week.
Contractors have already started preliminary work on the installation of footings for the five sets of bridge piers. Full-scale excavation is underway for some of the approach work along Highway 36 in Minnesota. Endangered mussels have been removed from the construction zone and moved to a different location.
The wet spring and early summer weather hasn't had too much of an impact on the schedule, Chiglo said.
"It hasn't been too much of a problem to date," he said. "We've just been mobilizing so far."
In the upcoming week, the public will notice increased activities in the river and on land for the St. Croix Crossing Project. Good weather from here on out would help keep the schedule on track.
Buoys are now in place along the Minnesota and Wisconsin shoreline, providing a designated work zone area and narrowing the river channel. A "no wake" zone is also in place around the work area and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will have extra patrols on the water enforcing the new rules.
"We want boaters to honor our request to pass through our work zone without creating waves," Chiglo said. "We don't want that to disrupt our activities...and we want everybody to go home safe at night."
Chiglo said officials have met with marina owners and urged them to inform boat owners about the work zone restrictions.
Weather permitting, this week construction activities begin for the new frontage road extension on the south side of Highway 36, east of Phil's Tara Hideaway Restaurant.
Land clearing adjacent to the Minnesota Highway 95 and Highway 36 junction in Oak Park Heights will also continue. Crews were set to begin work on the east side of Highway 95 this week.
Chiglo said all of the construction from Osgood Avenue (the first stoplight in Oak Park Heights on Highway 36) to the river is scheduled to be completed between now and the end of 2013. The bulk of the work will be completed after July 4 and one lane of traffic will always remain open in both directions, he noted.
"There will be an impact on businesses, but most of the impact on businesses will be in 2014," he said. "We've held a number of meetings with businesses to explain what's going on."
The Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation have also been conducting several open houses for the general public to explain the steps the project will follow in the coming years.
As actual work on the bridge has begun, more and more people are showing up to such meetings to ask questions and get more information, Chiglo said.
"We're trying to keep the community informed of what's going to happen too," he said.
Pile driving for the bridge's foundation should begin in December, with those activities finishing up through the winter. The five sets of piers should then be installed by next July, Chiglo estimated, although there is a financial incentive for contractors to get some of the piers completed even earlier.
The design work for the bridge is now 95% complete, Chiglo said. The expectation is that bids for the actual bridge will be let in October.
The goal is to have the bridge open to traffic by no later than the fall of 2016, if all goes well.
"We're still very much in the infancy of this project," Chiglo said. "But we're feeling OK about where we're at. We still have a lot of work to do and we have to maintain our focus."
He said the main goals of project administrators from now forward are safety, environmental sensitivity and contract administration.
"And communicating with the people is important," he said. "We want to be accurate, consistent and timely with our communications."
Activity on the Wisconsin side of the river isn't noticeable, but progress is being made there as well.
According to Dave Solberg, Wisconsin's project manager, the plans for the state's approaches are being reviewed in Madison with the hope that contractor bids will be sought in December.
Actual construction will begin in spring 2014 and will wrap up late in summer 2014, Solberg said.
Work for the first project includes constructing the Highway 35 overpass along with minor asphalt paving. The new bridge will carry Highway 35 traffic over the new four-lane Highway 64.
"It certainly does seem like the pace of things is picking up," Solberg commented. "Although people don't see any construction work occurring on the Wisconsin side of the river, we have many people working hard finishing up all aspects of the design side of projects to ensure a successful and timely start to our approach work next March."
The second roadway approach plan is being assembled currently, Solberg said. It will be due in Madison on June 1, 2014. That project is scheduled to be let in December of 2014. Work on that project will run from the spring of 2015 through the late fall of 2015.
The third contract paves all aggregate surfaces in 2016. The project will start in late spring and the completion date will be coordinated to coincide with the open to traffic date of the bridge.
Solberg said state officials continue to negotiate the purchase of land needed for the new Highway 64 stretch from the bridge to the current four-lane section.
That acquisition process will likely be completed by the end of 2013.
The St. Croix Project Office, located at 1862 Greeley St. S. in Stillwater, is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with extended office hours on Tuesdays until 6:30 p.m.