The Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation said now is the time for public input on the 2028 Blatnik Bridge project.

A Tuesday news release announced a virtual public meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 12 to discuss the purpose-and-need statement for a project scheduled for construction in 2028.

It's not yet known if the bridge will require replacement or be rebuilt. Placeholding figures in MnDOT planning budgets have it as a $460 million project, but nobody knows a true cost at this point given the early stages of planning.

The purpose-and-need statement is part of environmental documentation, focusing on the problems, not the solutions, for the project, and is used as a guide to evaluate and select alternatives, the news release said.

Opened in 1961, the bridge is one of two bridges connecting Duluth to Superior. It carries Interstate 535 over the St. Louis Bay.

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Jointly owned and managed by two state transportation departments, it is Minnesota’s second longest bridge and serves an average of 33,021 cars traveling between the two cities each day.

MnDOT will lead the project, which will address aging infrastructure, improve safety and better accommodate oversize/overweight loads.

The purpose-and-need statement can be found on the project webpage at dot.state.mn.us/d1/projects/blatnik-bridge.

The agencies have been considering Blatnik's future since 2016. The purpose of the project, according to MnDOT, is manifold:

  • Significant deterioration in truss elements.
  • Safety inspection is required every year, which requires lane closures for one to three weeks.
  • Additional maintenance causes lane closures up to three times annually.
  • Significant steel and cable repairs were required in 2016 after inspection revealed increased deterioration.
  • Reactionary structural repair needed every four years.
  • In June 2019, main truss span and approach spans were load posted for 40 tons and therefore can no longer accommodate overweight loads.
  • Increased road user delays for scheduled bridge maintenance activities and inspections.

To prevent further spread of COVID-19, MnDOT is not hosting in-person public meetings at this time. During the virtual meeting, MnDOT and WisDOT staff will discuss the project, the purpose-and-need statement and gather feedback. There will be time for questions.

Information on the project and a link to the virtual meeting can be found at dot.state.mn.us/d1/projects/blatnik-bridge/index.html

Those without internet access can also call 855-282-6330 to join the meeting. Meeting access code is 146 919 4320. For those unable to attend the meeting, a recording of the meeting will be posted to the webpage.

The public will also have a week to comment online, through email or in writing to Pat Huston, 1123 Mesaba Ave., Duluth, MN 55811.