Bong Bridge to get $20 million makeover

The Bong Bridge is in pretty good shape for a structure that's carried thousands of vehicles a day for nearly 27 years, Wisconsin transportation officials say.

Bong Bridge
The Bong Bridge, connecting Superior and Duluth, is slated for two years of repairs beginning in 2014. (Bob King /

The Bong Bridge is in pretty good shape for a structure that's carried thousands of vehicles a day for nearly 27 years, Wisconsin transportation officials say.

But, like any middle-aged structure, it needs some work to remain in good shape.

The bridge is scheduled to undergo a two-year, $15 million to $20 million makeover beginning in 2014. Transportation officials will discuss the project at a public informational meeting Wednesday.

"The work that is scheduled is comparable to re-shingling your roof or painting your house," said Al Bjorklund, WisDOT's regional bridge maintenance and inspection engineer. "It's basic maintenance. There is nothing that if we don't do it the bridge is going to fall down; it's just we want to keep it in good condition for as long as we can. This is a relatively low-cost treatment that extends the life of the structure."

Current plans call to close the Duluth-bound lanes of the bridge in 2014 and the Superior-bound lanes in 2015.


"The plans will be finished up by the winter of 2013," project manager Matt Dickenson said. "It goes out for bid in the late winter, early spring of 2014. The work will start as soon as it can in 2014."

Affected traffic will be detoured to the Blatnik Bridge. About 15,000 vehicles use the Bong each day. The Blatnik carries 20,000 to 30,000 a day.

When it was built between 1979 and 1984, the Bong Bridge cost $70 million -- an amount that inflation has more than doubled.

The bridge, which carries U.S. Highway 2 between Minnesota and Wisconsin, was designed to last at least 75 years, WisDOT Project Development Supervisor Dave Ostrowski said. This will be the first major maintenance project on the bridge since it opened to traffic on Oct. 25, 1984.

"The past work has been patching potholes, marking the pavement," he said.

Perhaps the largest single part of the project will be milling and resurfacing of the roadway.

"We're taking off about 2 inches (of concrete)," Dickenson said.

In addition to making the ride across the bridge smoother, the new deck overlay will help keep salt away from the bridge's steel, extending its life, Ostrowski said. Also helping with that will be the fact that the new road surface will shed water faster.


"The deck was poured at a 1.5 percent cross-slope," Bjorklund said. "The standard now is 2 percent. That improves drainage."

Other parts of the project will replace about 20 sets of expansion joints, paint steel trusses, upgrade the lighting, and replace components in the lower cable hangers on the bridge's center-span arch.

"Water has wicked through these cables and has corroded the shim packs," Bjorklund said. "So we need to replace them and get the right tension on the cables."

Workers also will repair sections of the bridge's 6-foot-wide, 2.5-mile-long bike-pedestrian path where salt has damaged its exterior edge.

The project will extend beyond the bridge itself. Approach work on the Wisconsin side of the bridge includes replacing pavement on U.S. Highway 2 to Belknap Street and on Belknap Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Belknap Street viaduct, including intersection improvements.

The federal government will pay 80 percent of the project's cost, Ostrowski said. Wisconsin and Minnesota will evenly split the remainder.

Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
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