Transportation officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin are recommending a complete rebuild of the Blatnik Bridge — one that follows the same alignment as the existing high-traffic connector between Duluth and Superior, has roundabout interchanges and a multiuse path along the side.
The Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation, which have committed an equal amount of funding to the project — $400 million each — presented the narrowed option and an environmental assessment during a public hearing Tuesday night at the Superior, Wis., Public Library. About 70 residents turned out with commentary ranging from questions about the necessity of the bridge's 120-foot clearance over the waterway to critique of the multiuse path.
The public comment period runs through Oct. 19 and then officials will provide responses in a Findings of Fact document.
This recommendation comes after a narrowing of options that ranged from no rebuild to complete overhaul.
The four lane, 1.5-mile Blatnik Bridge is one of two major spans linking these port cities. The Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge is slightly less traveled but would serve as the main connector during the years-long construction project. As the Blatnik has neared the end of its lifespan, it has required additional maintenance, specifically truss work. Transportation officials cite the bridge structure, vehicle mobility and vehicle safety as reasons for a new bridge — in addition to the need for a pedestrian and bike path, which it doesn't currently have.
The Blatnik Bridge carries 33,000 vehicles per day — traffic traveling Interstate 535 and Hwy. 53. Every year, 265,000 trucks carrying $2.6 billion in domestic goods and $1.07 billion in international goods use this route. he structure that was built in 1961 is now operating at 60% capacity, according to Pat Huston, MnDOT's major projects engineer.
"The bridge is safe — I always like to emphasis that — but it is nearing the end of its life," he said.
Led by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., 10 elected officials from Minnesota and Wisconsin sent a letter asking President Joe Biden to support the states' application for federal funding to replace the bridge, describing it as a "crucial transportation link" and "essential economic engine in the region." It is expected to cost around $1.8 billion, and officials have said they hope to begin work in 2026.
"By funding needed updates to the Blatnik Bridge, we can make sure drivers have a safe way to cross the St. Louis Bay for years to come," they wrote.
Biden visited the bridge during a visit to the Twin Ports in 2022.