October 6, 2023
By Lane Kimble
SUPERIOR, Wis. — If you set aside the “no build” option (which would force a full closure by 2030), the four alternatives for replacing the Blatnik Bridge in Superior aren’t drastically different.
“By and large, the bridge and the project will look much the same,” MnDOT Major Projects Assistant District Engineer Pat Huston explained.
Make no mistake, though: the preferred option we learned more about this week should vastly improve an aging, but incredibly important piece of infrastructure for the region.
Work would include a total demolition and rebuild along the bridge’s existing path, a new offset diamond interchange on the Wisconsin side, and a bike and pedestrian path between Superior and Duluth.
“This is a very large project,” Huston emphasized during a video that previewed Tuesday night’s public information session in Superior. The session included details about the alternatives, what sets them apart, and when work on the approximately $1.8 billionproject could begin.
The bridge opened in 1961, but has outlived its lifespan, is prone to crashes, and has been posted for weight to 60% of a standard highway bridge for years.
Huston says “Alternative One” is cheaper (by about $200 million), takes less time to complete, and requires less permanent right of way than the other choices.
Following this plan would mean fully closing the Blatnik Bridge for more than four years (55 months) but also shortens the total construction time to 58 months instead of 70.
“Traffic during construction will certainly be an impact,” Huston said. About 33,000 vehicles cross the bridge daily.
Cars and trucks would use the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge (US Highway 2), about two miles south, during the closure.
The new interchange on the bridge’s Wisconsin side should provide an easier transition between I-535 and US-53. Plans may also reduce the steep grade, particularly on the Wisconsin side.
MnDOT says eight businesses would need to relocate and contractors would need to clear seven to eight acres of trees in the winter.
MnDOT and WisDOT are currently accepting public comments – a required step – through October 19. Click HERE for more information about the project and to submit your comments.
Construction could begin in 2026 if the states can secure about $1 billion in federal funding to complement the approximately $850 million they’ve combined to dedicate to the rebuild.