Our view: Let’s work together to relight Blatnik BridgeLike a lot of us, when he thinks of the place he calls home, Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth instantly conjures up brightly lit, nighttime images of the Aerial Lift Bridge, Enger Tower and the Blatnik Bridge.
Like a lot of us, when he thinks of the place he calls home, Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth instantly conjures up brightly lit, nighttime images of the Aerial Lift Bridge, Enger Tower and the Blatnik Bridge.
Our most-recognized landmarks.
The structures that help identify ours as a unique place unlike anywhere else in the world. They’re part of who we are, reminders of what makes our place special.
This is why it was so disheartening to learn we could be losing one of them. Later this year, the more than 200 shimmering white lights that outline the Blatnik Bridge are to be taken down for sandblasting, the painting of gusset plates and other work related to a two-year, $12 million maintenance project. In 2013, when the project is completed, it’s unclear whether the lights will go back up.
“Can’t be possible,” Reinert said in a News Tribune report last week, sounding like a lot of us. “The idea of (those lights) being gone is just flat-out not OK by me.”
How to save them is a
$1.2 million question, which is the estimated cost of returning the lights.
Minnesota’s Department of Transportation footed the entire bill to install the lights and to flip them on back in 1996. With the lingering recession keeping budgets tight, MnDOT is willing to pay only half this time, which actually seems a pretty fair offer. Consider that Minnesota and Wisconsin typically split the costs for all repairs to the two major spans that connect Duluth and Superior, the Blatnik and Bong bridges, the question seems obvious: Is Wisconsin’s Department of Transportation willing to step up this time?
“We haven’t said yes, but we haven’t said no,” Chris Ouellette, communications manager for WisDOT’s Northwest Region, told the News Tribune’s Andrew Krueger for a story Feb. 20.
WisDOT can go ahead and say yes, remembering that a lit-up Blatnik is an easily recognizable and marketable landmark for Superior, too. Wisconsin shouldn’t wait for Reinert and Rep. Kerry Gauthier, also of Duluth, to submit and back a bill they’ve already drafted to require MnDOT to find all the money to reinstall the lights. That’s not how the two states, or the Twin Ports, cooperate.
Detractors argue decorative lighting is more a want than a need. “When there’s not a lot of money to go around you have to prioritize what’s important,” Wisconsin Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, said.
Fair enough, but what’s more important than who we are and the landmarks that set us apart as unique and special?
If anyone is able to get out in today’s snowstorm, the first of two critical public meetings about the Blatnik project, and the lights, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Denfeld High School. If the storm keeps people away or causes the meeting to be canceled, MnDOT and WisDOT can best serve the Twin Ports by rescheduling. A second public meeting is at
6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Superior headquarters at 1701 N. Fourth St.
Like Reinert, we all can be heard. An icon of the Twin Ports is at stake.