I-35W bridge: Big job, tight schedule, tough competition

  • Article by: Pam Louwagie
  • Star Tribune
  • September 3, 2007 - 10:50 PM

With an accelerated schedule and deadlines looming, a few construction and design firms vying to build the new Interstate 35W bridge are scrambling to consider every detail about what it will take to erect the bridge quickly.

Teams of contractors have 1½ weeks to finish technical proposals before submitting them to the Minnesota Department of Transportation between 7 and 8 a.m. on Sept. 14. Price proposals are due Sept. 18. State officials want the bridge done by the end of 2008.

The teams must gather information about soil, river conditions, utilities at the site and everything else they can think of. "It's extremely hurried and I'm sure they're all working long hours," said Dave Semerad, CEO for the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota.

Teams, he said, must line up material suppliers and subcontractors, analyze weather patterns to figure out work schedules, and look at data on river levels. They'll consider how to staff each task, figure out equipment needs and factor in safety precautions, Semerad said.

"Figures will be checked and rechecked and then checked again and then checked again," he said.

C.S. McCrossan Construction Inc., for example, leading one of the teams bidding on the project, had 12 to 15 people working on the proposal last week, said Vice President Tom McCrossan. "There's been some 12-hour, 14-hour days and certainly Saturdays and Sundays," he said.

Each of the four companies vying for the winning bid -- a fifth dropped out of the running -- is capable of doing the job well, observers said.

"It's a pretty competitive field and these companies have been successful," said Robert Johns, director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota.

All teams will want to make sure they have a good chance at reaping some of the millions of dollars in financial incentives offered for getting the job done early, Johns said. Teams will "just plan it very tightly," he said. "This is hard work."

Once the technical proposals are in, MnDOT will score them on quality and aesthetics, planned enhancements to the bridge parameters and surrounding area, and commitment to public relations, said Terry Ward, a deputy project manager for MnDOT.

Ward said he expects lots of excitement on Sept. 19, when officials open the price proposals, put them together with the technical score and determine who gets the contract. The teams are:

Ames Construction Inc. and Lunda Construction Co.

A Burnsville company, Ames calls itself one of the nation's largest heavy civil and industrial design-build contractors. In Minnesota, its work includes a recently completed bridge over the Mississippi in Sauk Rapids. In a fact sheet released for the 35W project, the company says that it has completed nearly $1 billion in design-build contracts.

Its partner on the 35W bridge proposal, Lunda, operates out of Black River Falls, Wis., and touts itself on the fact sheet as MnDOT's largest bridge contractor by volume, completing contracts on 37 major bridges over the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers since 1993. Ames and Lunda are partners on the Crosstown Highway project, the fact sheet says. For the 35W bridge project, the team is partnering with HDR Engineering.


McCrossan started in 1956 and is based in Maple Grove but also works in the southwestern United States. In a fact sheet to MnDOT, the company highlighted projects including the Hiawatha light-rail line, the widening of Interstate 494 from four to six lanes between Edina and Plymouth, and Hwy. 610 in the north metro area.

Its heavy-construction partner, Edward Kraemer & Sons, is based in Plain, Wis. Founded in 1911, it specializes in river bridges, listing among its work on the team's fact sheet "landmark bridges" nationwide, including the Great River Bridge in Burlington, Iowa. Recent Minnesota projects include the Interstate 35E Lexington Bridge and Ford Parkway bridge, both over the Mississippi in St. Paul, the sheet said.

The companies are partnering with Jacobs Engineering Group.


Flatiron touts extensive experience constructing major bridges in North America in its fact sheet. It highlighted the accelerated schedule project to design and build twin Interstate 10 bridges over Escambia Bay in Florida, after damage from Hurricane Ivan. The company also has done work on the Oakland Bay Bridge in California and other bridges nationwide.

Its partner, Johnson Bros., lists on its fact sheet bridges including the Hennepin Avenue Suspension, 3rd Avenue and Stone Arch.

The companies are partnering with Figg Bridge Engineers.


Walsh is part of the Walsh Group, a 103-year-old company. On its fact sheet, it says it has been ranked as the nation's 18th-largest contractor and second-largest bridge contractor. It operates in 37 states. It highlights some of its larger projects, such as the reconstruction of Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway and the emergency reconstruction of the Bay St. Louis Bridge in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

Its partner, American Bridge, is 107 years old and a specialist in complex bridge construction, according to the fact sheet. It says it has undertaken bridge projects in all states and has worked in Europe and South America.

The companies are partnering with PB Americas Inc. as their lead designer.

Staff writer Patrick Kennedy and researcher John Wareham contributed to this report.

Pam Louwagie •

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