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St. Louis County secures record $24 million road, bridge contract

The replacement program approved Tuesday will address 21 bridges and box culverts across the county.

Carry crossing bridge
A motorist drives across the West Skyline Parkway bridge near Spirit Mountain Recreation Area on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. The 55-year-old bridge is one of 21 bridges that St. Louis County plans to replace this year. A culvert carrying Knowlton Creek under this bridge will also be removed and the creek restored to a natural condition to allow the free passage of fish and increase aquatic habitat.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

AURORA — The St. Louis County Board approved the largest road and bridge contract the county has ever put out for bid Tuesday, when it agreed unanimously to replace 21 bridges and box culverts at a cost of $23.9 million.

The projects are widespread throughout the county, and will replace bridges during the next three construction seasons, with 10 expected to begin this year and the remaining 11 in 2023. All work is expected to be completed by 2024.

The approved contract was awarded to Redstone Construction, of Mora, with a bid $5 million less than competing bids. Commissioner Frank Jewell, representing downtown Duluth, made note of that fact during a committee of the whole meeting Jan. 4.

“Do we really know they can pull off something $5 million cheaper?” Jewell asked. “Do we have in place things to make sure that’s true?”

Jim Foldesi, public works director, assured the board the contractor would come through. 

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Bridge replacement projects.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

“We have a lot of experience working with Redstone," Foldesi said. "They’ve done a lot of projects for us and we’re confident they’ll be able to deliver as they’ve bid.” 

The county is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on numerous aspects of this project, from design and construction, to securing funding. Money for the bridge projects come from a variety of sources, including nearly $11.5 million from three federal funding programs; $6.3 million in Local Bridge Replacement Program grant funds; $2.1 million in MnDOT funds; and $3.9 million in county Transportation Sales Tax funds.

Cracked concrete on bridge
Cracked concrete and rust stains from corroded steel are visible under the West Skyline Parkway bridge Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

The county is working with MnDOT to secure additional state and federal bridge funds worth $1.4 million, which would reduce the amount of Transportation Sales Tax funds needed to $2.5 million, the county explained in a news release Tuesday.

Paul McDonald
Paul McDonald

“This a great example of how agencies can partner to better serve our citizens,” said County Board Chair Paul McDonald, who previously served as the board’s transportation committee chair as the bridge bundling package was assembled. “It’s a huge undertaking that will greatly improve the quality of our bridge system for all drivers, but in particular for heavier commercial vehicles, so this is an economic development project as well as a transportation safety project.”

St. Louis County Public Works and MnDOT have been working together on this bridge bundling package for more than two years, “recognizing that combining all 21 projects into one design contract and one construction contract allowed for a streamlined project delivery process and reduced overall cost due to bundling,” the county said.

The package includes 17 county bridges and four MnDOT bridges. Among the county's 17 bridges, the average age is 75 years, and seven of them currently have limited weight restrictions.

Rusting steel on a county bridge
Rusting rebars and other metal components are visible under the West Skyline Parkway bridge Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Construction on the bridges will span three construction seasons: 10 are expected to begin this year, and the remaining 11 in 2023, with all work completed by 2024.

Keith Musolf
Keith Musolf

Commissioner Keith Musolf, the board's current transportation committee chair, praised the partnerships and the work by public works staff to make the bundling effort happen.

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“We could not do this without them,” Musolf said of all involved.

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