Push begins to give I-35W bridge a landmark look

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE and JIM FOTI , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2007 - 9:50 PM

As efforts to bring in a star designer get started, plans to replace the I-35W bridge won't likely be slowed to do so, transportation officials said.

For Twin Cities design aficionados, a new Interstate 35W bridge across the Mississippi River presents a chance to build a breathtaking landmark with a world-renowned bridge designer.

While aesthetics will play a part in planning the new span, transportation officials indicated Monday that the project won't be slowed to bring in a big name; any star-quality design will have to come through the teams of contractors already vying to build the new bridge, they said.

That's not stopping efforts by a handful of local design fans, led by real estate consultant Peter Kitchak, who want to see it happen.

Kitchak has discussed the possibility with Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, who has designed bridges around the globe and recently helped expand the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Calatrava has expressed interest in the project and sent his son, who works in his firm, to see the site in Minneapolis, according to a spokeswoman.

A Kitchak employee talked with four teams vying for the bridge project -- a fifth, KTM Constructors, dropped out of the running over the weekend. The teams, Kitchak said, have indicated "lukewarm" support for the idea of bringing Calatrava on board.

The firms said that they already have designers and that it would be hard to switch with a deadline for proposals coming in mid-September.

Kitchak said he and others have appealed to Gov. Tim Pawlenty to slow the process if necessary. Brian McClung, a spokesman for Pawlenty, said Monday that his office already indicated to MnDOT that design should be a part of the scoring for the proposals. Aesthetics count for 20 percent of a proposal's technical score.

"From our perspective, if any designer is interested in being part of the 35W bridge rebuilding, they have the opportunity to team up with a contractor," McClung said. "The opportunity is there."

MnDOT hasn't indicated plans to change its current design process. Bringing Calatrava on board is "a decision the teams need to make on their own," said Jon Chiglo, bridge project manager.

How the process is set up now

The agency has implemented a visual quality team to provide guidance and feedback on designs for the bridge, however. That group, which includes representatives from MnDOT, the National Park Service, the city of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Friends of the Mississippi River, met Monday with the four remaining contracting teams.

"These teams do have some very good architectural experts," said Kevin Western, who heads the visual quality team.

Team member Irene Jones, outreach director for the Friends of the Mississippi River, pointed out that hers is the only citizen group involved. She said she thought MnDOT had already narrowed design possibilities.

Western said that the site was more of a limiting factor than the timetable. For example, he said, the river gorge at that spot isn't deep enough for a single arch to span the river, so an arch design had to be ruled out.

It was unclear Monday evening why KTM decided to drop out.

A spokesman for the joint venture between Kiewit Corp., Traylor Bros. and Massman Construction declined to give a reason. "We don't comment on a project unless and until it's been awarded to us," spokesman Kent Grisham said.

Missing an opportunity?

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