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Bridging the gap

"Everybody's done a great job," said Bennie Berg, River Falls resident and project manager and estimator for Hudson-based J&L Steel Erectors. "We commend all the guys (and girls) out there and the wives (and husbands) and the kids."

He's talking about workers building the I-35W St. Anthony Falls replacement bridge. They've toiled through a long winter, nights, weekends and major holidays. J&L is one of many subcontractors and has a big chunk of the work, so Berg has had an inside look at the progress.

Most people remember the tragic day of Aug. 1, 2007, when the bridge near downtown Minneapolis came crashing down, killing 13 people and injuring about 100 others.

Work on its replacement began last November. Berg said the job site has run 24 hours a day.

"The guys in the field have been working seven days a week," he said.

A Friday afternoon about two weeks ago marked the first time he can remember the job site closing for any amount of time.

"We have 123,000 man hours as of last week," Berg said about J&L, claiming that in a normal year the company logs about 70,000 labor hours.

He said until recently, there were 123 steel workers reporting to the job site each day. He thinks that number is down around 50 now.

Berg said it amazes him how much the workers and their families have sacrificed in order to meet the bridge schedule. He said, at the job site he's met many other people from River Falls.

Segment by segment

Berg oversaw work at the segment casting yard south of the project site. His colleague Mike Reger supervised the cast-in-place spans. J&L had responsibility for installing the reinforcing steel, installing and post tensioning cables and erecting the bridge segments.

Berg said a barge-mounted crane installed 120 segments one-by-one to bridge the 385-foot gap over the Mississippi River.

He said crews kept adding segments to each end until the two met in the middle, marking a milestone right around the year anniversary of the bridge collapse.

"They're shooting for September 15," he said about when the bridge will open.

If Flatiron, the firm managing the project, meets the timeline, it stands to collect a big incentive bonus.

He said his responsibility for the job is winding down, that J&L is pushing and stressing cables and doing ornamental railing.

"As far as us," he said, "it's been a really good job."

The project manager said safety is key and there have been zero loss-time injuries during the big rebuild.

Berg said he's never worked on a job that had so much media exposure -- reporters on the scene almost every day, news helicopters flying overhead, and almost daily reports about progress.

The bridge collapse led to much tighter inspection practices, according to Berg. He said the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge has undergone five layers of inspection at each stage of progress.

Overall contractor Flatiron conducted its own inspections plus has another firm, WSB, do another independent inspection. Bridge-designing firm Figg performed its own checks as did the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which also hired bridge-specialty firm Parsons to complete another inspection.

Berg calls the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge design a reinforced post-tension concrete. Relatively new to the Twin Cities, this type of bridge uses no structural steel and enables builders to construct longer spans than have been possible in the past.

Berg said even without the bridge work going on, it's been a big year for J&L. The company celebrates 30 years in business; just moved from Maple Grove, Minn., to a new building in Hudson's industrial park; and held presidential candidate John McCain's town-hall meeting earlier this summer.

Berg said heavy highway firm J&L seeks tenants for the 40,000-square feet of space where McCain's meeting happened. He said it includes restrooms, loading docks and build-to-suit options.

Berg won't soon forget the experience of building such a high-profile project and being part of such a big, hard-working team. Even though all the crews made huge sacrifices to meet the timeline, they feel proud to have been involved with the build.

"A lot of the guys and gals in the field have been honored to work on it," Berg said.

To get more information about or to see pictures of the I-35W St. Anthony Bridge project, log onto the Minnesota DOT's Web site at and click on the bridge project link. For more details on J&L Steel Erectors, visit the company's Web site at or call 715-808-0463.