Rebuilding bridge will be hard, fast

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 13, 2007 - 11:28 AM

New construction can be expedited without sacrificing safety, experts assure.

Little is known about the next Interstate Hwy. 35W bridge, but what officials do know is that the new span over the Mississippi River will go up fast.

Real fast.

An official told the Associated Press today that a preliminary design already has been selected, but would not give details.

Lucy Kender, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said officials typically would get to select from several designs.

"In this one, there's only one that has been developed," she told the AP. Public comments on the design will begin this week.

A news conference to talk about the design is scheduled for 2 p.m. today.

The decision by the state to fast-track the project means that a new bridge near downtown Minneapolis could be up and operating by late 2008.

That's half the time it usually takes for a project that size, including the first I-35W bridge, started in 1964 and opened in 1967.

For a state that has never built a bridge of that size so quickly, it's a formidable task.

It also carries some risk, but one that several construction experts say probably is worth taking.

"It's a major highway there -- I think it needs to be fast-tracked," said C.C. Myers, who runs a construction firm in California with a reputation for quick-turn projects after earthquakes and other disasters. "They've got to get it back open for traffic. It's a helluva inconvenience."

Said Bob Beckel, regional manager for Edward Kraemer & Sons, a national contractor that builds bridges, dams and heavy highway projects and is bidding on the I-35W work: "The time frame they are talking about is possible, but it's going to have to be a great effort by everybody. You are really going to have to pour the coals to it. It's going to be 24/7, full-bore."

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials met Friday with five contracting teams who qualified to make bids to build the new bridge. The department hopes to have a contract awarded by sometime in mid-September.

Design-build option

Under a more routine construction timeline, Beckel said, design work -- drawing up and reviewing plans, pulling permits and talking with agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep them abreast of developments -- would take about a year to complete.

By fast-tracking and embracing a construction strategy called "design-build," the state will try to save time up front by choosing one contractor to oversee both designing and building the bridge.

The state will establish general parameters for what it wants, but "They'll leave a lot up to the designers and contractors to figure out a way to get this thing built as fast as they can at the best price they can get," Beckel said.

He said the contractor will design and build on the fly, figuring out "a couple, three different plans of attack as far as how the structure will look" and materials used.

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