Commuters in the far southwest metro have one big reason to be thankful this week: The new County Road 101 bridge connecting Carver and Scott counties opens Tuesday.
State, county and local dignitaries will partake in the pomp and circumstance during a grand opening program, followed by a ceremonial walk across the 4,100-foot bridge spanning the Minnesota River flood plain between downtown Shakopee and the County Road 61/Flying Cloud Drive interchange in Chanhassen.
But the people most pleased with the opening will be the more than 20,000 motorists who used the road on a daily basis when it wasn't flooded.
"This is a big deal," said Claire Robling, Scott County's communications coordinator. "This road has been under water so many times."
For the record, that has happened at least four times between 2010 and 2015, with closures lasting anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Plus there were the epic floods of 1993, 1997 and the all-time high water mark set 50 years ago in 1965.
The annual spring flooding has been the bane of motorists for far too many years. With the new bridge built to raise the road out of the 100-year-flood elevation, drivers can finally say good riddance to detours that sent them miles out of the way when river waters swallowed the road.
It took several years and many hands — the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Carver and Scott counties, and the cities of Chanhassen and Shakopee — to complete the Southwest Reconnection Project.
There was a bit of ingenuity, too. This fall, contractor Ames Construction brought in Styrofoam blocks to help stabilize the soil on the south end of the $34 million four-lane bridge. The blocks are buried 4 feet under gravel and pavement and should reduce the likelihood of the road settling too much over time.
The bridge, complete with bicycle trail and LED lighting, was tied to another $20 million project that included the redesign of the "Y" interchange at County 61/Flying Cloud Drive and County 101, which now features a multilane roundabout instead of traffic lights.
That should help improve traffic flow, both now and in the future, Robling said.
"This was finished on time and under budget," Robling said. "It's an example of good collaboration, the way a project should be done. This is a wonderful investment."
About the Lafayette Bridge
Q: Reader John Ross noticed that the concrete surface of the northbound Lafayette Bridge had some cracks and was subsequently covered with a thin coat of asphalt. He wondered why the newly opened southbound bridge received no such treatment.
A: The bridge has long steel girders with quite a bit of flex, and that movement results in some cracking in the deck. It does not affect the bridge's structural integrity, said MnDOT's Kent Barnard.
MnDOT sprayed an epoxy chip seal on the northbound deck to seal the surface to prevent additional problems and to extend the longevity of the bridge. Because the southbound bridge is newer, Barnard said, "We want to observe it after one winter of use and see if similar cracking develops. If it does, we may also place an epoxy chip seal on the southbound bridge in the spring as well."