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Major overhaul of Bong Bridge will start later this month

Drivers pass under the span of the Bong Bridge on Friday afternoon. A two-year overhaul project on the bridge is set to begin March 31. (Bob King / / 2
Renovation work on the Bong Bridge, seen here Friday afternoon, will begin March 31. Over the next two construction seasons, the bridge will get an overlay of the existing bridge deck and repairs will be made to the sidewalk, among other work. (Bob King / / 2

For the first time since it opened in 1984, the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge is getting a major overhaul. Closures will begin March 31 on lanes from Superior to West Duluth.

In the next two years, the bridge will get an overlay of the existing bridge deck and repairs will be made to the sidewalk. Components of the arch, existing expansion joints, and street and ship navigation lights will be replaced, and the arch and girder ends will get a new coat of paint.

In addition, the approach on the Superior side of the bridge is getting a new configuration when construction of a roundabout gets underway this year.

Westbound lanes will close this year, while eastbound lanes remain open. That will reverse in 2015.

The $13.3 million project is expected to take two construction seasons to complete. The Minnesota Department of Transportation will kick in half of the cost, $6.6 million, but Wisconsin will manage the entire project. Both states use significant federal money for the bridge, which is part of U.S. Highway 2.

Beth Petrowske, a spokeswoman for MnDOT in Duluth, said the departments take turns on projects that span both states.

MnDOT was responsible for the recent $12 million in repairs on the Blatnik Bridge, which will be used as an alternate route with Bong Bridge lanes closed. Talk has begun on offering a shuttle service for bicycles when that lane is closed.

Work will begin when the westbound lanes close March 31, said Brian Mattson, project manager with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Superior Assistant Public Works Director Todd Janigo said he originally thought the city would have more lead time before the lanes close; the original start date was May 1. He said detours will be posted to caution drivers along East Second Street before they reach Belknap Street and along Tower Avenue, so they don’t mistakenly drive to the Bong Bridge only to discover they have to go back to the Blatnik Bridge.

Construction on the new roundabout at the Superior approach to the bridge will begin this year, but Mattson said he doesn’t expect it to affect traffic along Belknap Street until 2015, when the eastbound lanes on the bridge close.

The eastbound lanes remain open this year, but there will be intermittent lane closures as needed for the construction work.

“It’s going to be inconvenient for sure,” Mattson said. “Let’s let cooler heads prevail and just be safe.”

Bong Bridge facts

  • The replacement for the 1927 Arrowhead Bridge cost $70 million, which, calculated for inflation, would cost about $157 million today. Minnesota and Wisconsin each paid 10 percent of the cost. The federal government covered the rest.
  • Construction began in 1979 after 10 years of planning. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation was the project manager. The Bong Bridge opened Oct. 25, 1984.
  • The Minnesota Department of Transportation has provided maintenance on the bridge under a cost-sharing agreement.
  • It stretches 8,395 feet across the St. Louis River and is 425 feet longer than the Blatnik Bridge to the north.
  • The state border is 3 feet, 9 inches west of the center point of main arch.
  • The tied-arch bridge rests on 43 champagne glass-style piers, 37 of which are in the water. The center span is a single 500-foot long steel tied arch that is 80 feet high with a 120-foot vertical clearance over the St. Louis River.
  • The bridge is S-shaped to follow shipping lanes on the river. Guides embedded into the river bottom prevent ships from colliding with the bridge.
  • The concrete used for the bridge — 82,000 cubic yards — is enough to pave a standard sidewalk from Superior to Milwaukee and back.