The ‘other’ bridge project


How can anyone not be impressed by the new I-35W bridge? In relatively no time at all, construction crews have created a new bridge where the August 2007 tragedy occurred.

On Saturday the final span of the northbound lane of the new 35W bridge was moved into place. The southbound lane will be completed this week. A MnDOT release today says University Avenue over I-35W will be closed Thursday from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday while the entrance and exit ramps are paved with concrete. Crews are working 24-hours a day.

The new bridge will cost an estimated $234 million. The construction company has $27 million in incentives to finish the job this year. The rapid pace (See live Webcam) has many “sidewalk superintendents” raising their eyebrows, but officials insist no corners are being cut.

Impressive, indeed.

Downstream? Not so much.


This is the eastbound lane of the “new Wakota bridge,” a project that started in 2002 and won’t be completed until 2010. It’ll take 8 years to completely replace the aging bridge which was knocked down when the eastbound span was finally completed in 2006, four years after construction started. A design error in the new span forced some emergency repairs, a design change, and a new construction bidding process.

While an army of construction workers are scurrying around the I-35W bridge project, this afternoon only a small handful of workers were on the South St. Paul side of the bridge, driving pilings.


The cost of the entire project? When it’s done — if there are no more cost overruns — it’ll run about $300 million — $66 million and 7 years more than its new cousin upstream.


  • bsimon

    Its hard not to make that comparison.

    Having said that, I wonder how much of a factor there is in Flatiron not having to deal with traffic. Projects like the Wakota bridge & crosstown commons have to stay open for through traffic, while the 35W bridge over the Mississippi does not.

    Either way, my dad the civil engineer (by training anyway) was here this week & we biked by the bridge yesterday. The progress is very impressive. Last fall we took a look when they were drilling pilings – to see a nearly-whole bridge there now is amazing.

  • Kevin D. Hendricks

    The progress of the 35W bridge is pretty amazing, but in comparing it to the Wakota bridge project it seems worth pointing out the vast differences in scope, traffic and attention.

    While replacing a bridge is always a massive project, the 35W project is pretty much restricted to the bridge. That’s the extent of the work. The Wakota project, meanwhile, is doing extensive reworkings of the on/off ramps and other streets in the area. It’s a mess down there. The projects aren’t quite comparable in scope.

    As bsimon pointed out, I think the lack of traffic makes a huge difference. When MnDOT redid 36 east of 35E, the options were to shut it down for a few months or close lanes for multiple years. Same deal with recent weekend closings–94 when they added lanes and 35E resurfacing. If you can completely stop traffic you can do the work much more quickly.

    And finally attention. The 35W bridge has all the attention, all the pressure and all the federal funding. It’s a priority, while Wakota clearly isn’t.

    The Wakota project has had plenty of problems, but it’s also had a different set of challenges.

  • Bob Collins

    You’re right that there was a highway 61 reconstruction project. Re: Traffic. The old bridge carried the traffic while the new span was built. So in that respect they were able to build pretty much from scratch. And now they’re building the second side with no traffic.

    I think they did a pretty fine job with the rerouting of everything on 61. It didn’t help to have absolutely no construction going on down there for about a year, only to have the bid come back at exactly the same amount that (then) Commissioner Molnau refused to pay when she put it out to rebid.

    Still, I wonder whether the I-35W model isn’t one for the future. Rather than take years to build something, work everyone 24 hours a day, overpay up front, give incentives for doing it ontime (and hopefully doing it right) and then be done with it.

  • Alison

    Do you suppose things may speed up on the Wakota now that we have a transportation commissioner who actually has a transportation background and better source of transportation funding?