Rainy River-Baudette bridge nears completion

By Ken Kellar

It might still be a while before it gets put to regular use, but the international bridge between Rainy River and Baudette, Minn. is on schedule to be completed in September.
Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) bridge engineer Paul Konickson provided the Times with an update on the construction project and noted that even though much of the world was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the bridge managed to avoid significant delays.
“It’s going good,” Konickson said.
“Things are still on schedule to open sometime in mid-September, so a little less than a month from now it should be open to traffic, though due to COVID there’s not a lot of traffic going over the existing bridge currently.”
The nearly $40-million project, which began last year, has only encountered a few setbacks, most notably due to challenges encountered by the contractor when they began drilling shafts for the new bridge.
According to Konickson, work on the bridge is nearing completion, with only a few more things to be done before the opening date.
“The deck is poured, they’re working on the roadway, approach pavement, getting that ready to go, getting the lighting installed,” he explained.
“It should be open by mid-September and by that point we’ll have to step back again. There’s an aluminum arch that’s going to be sent in the next week or so and that will be set about mid-point of the bridge – an aluminum decorative arch.”
Once work is completed on the remainder of the new bridge, then work can get underway on the second phase of the project; demolishing the old bridge, which Konickson explained should take at least part of next year to complete.
“The tentative schedule is to get the superstructure – the steel truss – removed this fall and then next season in 2021 they’ll work on the concrete and piers and underwater work getting everything removed,” he said.
The whole bridge project is a result of the original international bridge, built in 1959, having been deemed “structurally deficient” in 2008 by the state. According to the MnDOT, “the classification ‘structurally deficient’ is used to determine eligibility for federal funding.” Bridges in the state are assessed and given a general condition rating that informs the classification, which typically ranges from 0 (failed condition) to 9 (excellent).
The state classifies a bridge as “structurally deficient” if they have a general condition rating for the deck, superstructure, substructure or culvert of four or less, however, being structurally deficient does not imply that a bridge is unsafe, just that it is in need of repairs, rehabilitation or replacement to address the deficiencies.
Overall the project has been a good example of Ontario and Minnesota working together, Konickson said, and that collaboration will continue with the demolition of the old bridge, though there will be some peculiarities on how things have to be handled for that part of the work, and it can be complicated to sort out.
“Off the top of my head I don’t know all the details,” he said.
“I know the steel has to be disposed of, the U.S. steel has to be disposed of in the U.S. and the Canadian half has to be disposed of in Canada. I haven’t gotten into some of those details, but I know certain specialty work that has to be done all on one side, and there’s an approval process that has to be done, too. Some work, like the drilled shafts, were done primarily by the U.S contractor, but they also had some labour force that was Canadian, so it’s been a pretty good joint venture.”