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International bridge celebrates completion of two year build

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Following two years of work and almost $40-million, the new bridge that connects Rainy River to Baudette, Minn. is finally complete.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), in cooperation with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, announced the completion of the Baudette/Rainy River International Bridge on Tuesday. The project began in 2018 and was undertaken in order to replace the existing bridge, which was built in 1959. While the final stages of construction took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, in an earlier interview with the Times, MnDOT bridge engineer Paul Konickson noted that the crews working on the project had managed to avoid any significant delays.

The new bridge is a five-span continuous haunched steel I-girder beam bridge that comes in at 1,350 feet in length. Similar to the existing bridge, it has one lane for each direction and a sidewalk to accommodate pedestrian traffic. While the bridge is similar in length and scope to the existing bridge, MnDOT Project Manager Joe McKinnon noted the new bridge is designed to go for a longer period of time before the deck will need o be redone.

“The design is a typical steel-girder and cast-in-place concrete deck,” said McKinnon.

“The reinforcing steel in the deck is stainless steel as an effort to create a longer lifespan of the deck surface life, before a deck rehabilitation project would need to be done in the future.”

Just like the existing bridge, the project was an international collaboration from the outset. The MnDOT noted that Stantec, an engineering service out of Edmonton, produced both preliminary and environmental designs, while the Parsons Transportation Group of Washington, D.C., developed the final design for the bridge. There were also 90 other stakeholders who were brought on to address concerns around the environment, construction, border control and historical significance, as well as the public participation process.

However, the old bridge being an internationally owned and operated asset brought up some unexpected difficulties during different parts of the construction and planning process.

According to the MnDOT, the old bridge is a rare example of what's called a “Pennsylvania Truss” bridge, a style of bridge that fell out of favour in the 1930's. Therefore, in the United States it is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, which means that by law, the state “must inform a responsible government or other entity of its availability for preservation or relocation.” Essentially, the bridge can be sold. However, as the bridge is only partly owned by the United States, and seeing as how Canada does not recognize the bridge in the same fashion, it put the state and prospective buyers in a strange position.

“Because of its historic designation we had to try and offer the bridge for sale," said McKinnon.

"But since ownership of the bridge is split with Canada, we were actually advertising only half of a bridge for sale. The advertising for the chance to buy half of a bridge created a stir online and in the media, but it didn't generate any interested parties due to the considerable costs to disassemble, move and reassemble.”

The old bridge is expected to be demolished over a period of three to four months, beginning this month as the weather permits. Demolition will be halted over the winter and continued next summer alongside remaining work to the new bridge, all of which includes removing underwater structures, painting girders, installing special surface on concrete, removing dock wall and establishing turf.

In recognition of the new bridge, the MnDOT is planning to host a virtual celebration party on October 28 from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m., and the department also said it is planning to hold an in-person ribbon cutting ceremony at a later date.

“The virtual celebration will include a video presentation of the project as well as representatives from the project team,” the department said.

“Details on the virtual celebration as well as the link to join, can be found on the project website: www.mndot.gov/d2/projects/baudette-bridge.”

MnDOT reminds the public that even as the bridge is complete, crossing the U.S./Canada border remains restricted to essential and commercial travel only.

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