St. Louis County Public Works has been awarded $281,113 to cover design engineering costs for a series of bridge and culvert projects planned for 2022 and 2023, said a news release Wednesday.

The funds come from the state's motor vehicle leased sales tax, and will help the county move forward in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on a series of 21 projects totaling more than $17 million.

"This has been an enormous undertaking from the beginning, but we know it will have a large, positive impact on our bridge inventory, making it possible for heavier vehicles to use them and aiding economic activity on our road and bridge network," said Commissioner Paul McDonald of Ely, who chairs the transportation committee.

Public Works and MnDOT have been working together on this bridge bundling package as a way to save money and make the project processes more efficient by combining all 21 projects into one design contract and two construction packages.

It includes 17 county bridges and four MnDOT bridges. Among the county's 17 bridges, the average age is 73 years, and seven of them currently have limited weight restrictions.

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With the total cost estimated at $17.6 million, the county and MnDOT had sought a $14.1 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to cover 80% of the cost. The remaining 20%, $3.5 million, would be paid with local and trunk highway funds.

However, while the Highway Administration chose the bridge bundling project for funding through its Competitive Highway Bridge Program, the approved amount was for $10.3 million, leaving a funding gap of $3.8 million.

St. Louis County has sought funding from the state bonding bill to help fill the gap, but the legislature has been unsuccessful in passing a bonding bill this year. The county also is seeking funds through other state aid programs to assist with costs.