International bridge work progressing well

Sam Odrowski

Construction at the Rainy River/Baudette International Bridge is on track and set for completion by mid-August of 2020.

Works to the nearly $40-million bridge came to a halt late last month due to weather conditions but will resume sometime in the spring.

The bridge’s abutments and piers are now fully constructed and steel girders for the first three spans of the bridge have been set.

“Now we need to set the steel girders for the last two spans, which will be done in the spring when the ice melts,” noted Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) project engineer, Paul Konickson.

“At that point, they’ll start constructing the concrete deck on the bridge,” he added.

Upon the completion of the concrete deck, the contractor will start on approach work going into the existing pavement and tying it into the roadway.

When work on the new bridge is completed, around mid-August, the old bridge will be demolished, which should take a few months.

In 2019, all of the drilled shaft work for the bridge was completed and the contractor set approximately 60 percent of the structural steel for the steel girders.

The project hasn’t faced too many roadblocks, but there were some minor challenges for the contractor when drilling shafts for the bridge.

There was more obstructions and boulders than expected in the areas where the shafts were drilled which prolonged that aspect of the project, but Konickson said it’s still relatively close to being on schedule.

It is anticipated that there might be some slight overruns on its budget because of the obstructions.

Konickson told the Times that the international bridge is unique, as MnDOT doesn’t usually work with Canada on their projects.

There are different labour laws and the two border stations operate with different customs, but overall it has been a positive experience, he noted.

“Everyone’s worked together to get through that and it’s went pretty smoothly, which is to be expected,” Konickson explained.

“I think all parties upfront worked on a lot of things and did a lot of good communication to get that done.”

Meanwhile, the process to replace the bridge began after the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minnesota, which killed 135 people and injured 145 in 2007.

After the incident, the Minnesota government dedicated a lot of funding to replacing and upgrading existing infrastructure.

“This is one of the last projects utilizing that funding, so there’s been a lot of work around the state that’s been done to upgrade the bridge conditions in Minnesota and this is one of them,” Konickson noted.

He added that the bridge was also nearing the end of its usable lifespan–which was part of the reason for its replacement.

The condition was deteriorating and it is a “fracture critical bridge” which means it doesn’t have a lot of redundancies; if one of the truss members were to fail, there’s nothing to support it.

“With girders, if one girder fails the other girder can still upload it,” Konickson remarked. “It’s not likely to collapse, then.”

Fracture critical bridges require more inspections and maintenance, as well.

“Not that the bridge isn’t safe–the current one–it’s just there’s more risk,” Konickson explained.

To date, there hasn’t been any significant injuries during the project, which is something MnDOT always strives for, according to Konickson.

The project is being funded by both Ontario and Minnesota.