DULUTH - Minnesota and Wisconsin's Departments of Transportation asked for more than $1 billion in federal funding through the U.S. DOT's Bridge Investment Program to rebuild the Blatnik Bridge, governors from both states announced Monday.
Transportation officials have recommended a complete rebuild of the more than 60-year-old connector between Duluth and Superior, Wis., a project that is expected to cost about $1.8 billion but does not yet have funding. Minnesota and Wisconsin, which jointly share ownership of the bridge, have each committed to contributing $400 million.
"The Blatnik Bridge is a critical connection point for transportation and commerce between Minnesota and Wisconsin — and it needs an upgrade," Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said in a news release.
He said the rebuild will foster regional economic growth, bolster national supply chains and strengthen the reliability of the transportation network between the two states. More than 33,000 vehicles use the Blatnik Bridge daily. Per year, 265,000 trucks carrying $2.6 billion in domestic goods and $1.07 billion in international goods use the route that carries traffic from Interstate 535 and U.S. 53 over the St. Louis Bay.
"But as the bridge reaches the end of its service life, its condition continues to deteriorate — and it's time for us to exhaust every opportunity to replace this crucial connector with a safer, more efficient and more reliable structure for the next generation," Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in the release.
Walz and Evers announced in August that they had jointly submitted an application for funding through the U.S. DOT's Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant Program which, like the Bridge Investment Program, is part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Between the two, they are asking for more than $1 billion, according to Margie Nelson of MnDOT. The August application is still under review, she said.
President Joe Biden stopped at the Blatnik Bridge during a visit to the Twin Ports in 2022 to promote his $1 trillion infrastructure law — the source of the two DOT grants for which the state is applying.
The Blatnik Bridge was completed in 1961 and intended to last 70 years. Plans for an upgrade began in 2020 — at the time including scenarios that ranged from no rebuild to a complete overhaul.
At a meeting in October, transportation officials highlighted their recommendations for a new bridge that follows the same alignment as the current one, has roundabout interchanges and includes a multiuse path along the side that will benefit alternate modes of transportation and make bridge repairs less disruptive to traffic.
A public comment period followed the meeting and officials will respond to questions about the infrastructure in a Findings of Fact document that is expected to be available in early 2024.
The Blatnik Bridge can only hold 60% of the weight of what a standard highway bridge can hold, according to Pat Huston, major projects engineer at MnDOT. This has led to load restrictions that force trucks to use less efficient routes. He added that the bridge remains safe, but is nearing the end of its life. When construction begins, traffic will be rerouted to the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge.