MnDOT unveils design of 35W bridge

35W bridge design
A rendering of the new 35W bridge design, which will be built by Flatiron Construction.
Image courtesy of MnDOT

The conceptual drawings of the winning bid showcase two side-by-side concrete bridge spans that will cross over the Mississippi River. Each span will hold five lanes of traffic going in each direction. The arched bridge platform will be held up by several land-based piers. Nothing is above the platforms except a parade of lights that will reflect into the Mississippi River.

"This modern bridge. This high-tech, high-performance, smart bridge that is energy efficient will be a model for other bridges in America," said Linda Figg, the lead bridge designer for the project. Figg says she worked to design a bridge that would complement the history of downtown Minneapolis with newer, more modern amenities like the Guthrie Theater.

McCrossan design
C.S. McCrossan's design proposal for the 35W bridge.
Image courtesy of MnDOT

"Looking at the context of the site, we developed a theme that is of arches, water as a centerpiece and reflection. Reflection that you get in water and reflection that is evoked by the site," she said.

Figg says there is the option to build a suspended pedestrian bridge underneath the platform. A park and observation deck will also be at the base of a pier, allowing pedestrians to gaze into the Mississippi. Figg says the bridge will also be strong enough to hold future light rail. In fact, the design team stressed safety repeatedly at the news conference late Monday afternoon. Figg says the new bridge will include multiple redundancies or backups. There will also be a system with sensors so MnDOT and others could monitor the strength of the bridge, the weather, and other factors.

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The official groundbreaking for the project will occur next week, but the real work will begin on November 1. Peter Sanderson, the project manager for Flatiron, said they have set a December 24, 2008 deadline to finish the $234 million project. If they finish earlier, they could earn an extra $27 million in incentives.

"We will finish it as quickly as we can," Sanderson said. "The date we quoted is the date we're sure that we can finish it by."

The announcement came just hours after another state agency approved MnDOT's criteria for selecting Flatiron. Flatiron's bid was the most expensive and its proposal had the longest timeline to finish the bridge. But it won because it had the highest technical score.

Ames/Lunda design
The Ames/Lunda team emphasized the unique design of the bridge piers in its proposal -- slender pillars which would support the bridge while also providing visual interest.
Image courtesy of MnDOT

Two teams of contractors protested, saying they were misled by MnDOT on its design wishes and the criteria used to select the winner was arbitrary and capricious.

In a 17-page letter, an official with the Minnesota Department of Administration wrote that the process was fair.

MnDOT released the technical scoring data from all four bids after the contract was signed. Flatiron got higher marks because the design fit the landscape, the team leaders worked on similar projects in the past, and there was a strong focus on safety.

Tom O'Keefe, who works for MnDOT and was one of the six who scored the proposals, said Flatiron emphasized teamwork.

The designer
"It is a sculptural bridge where the form and the function work with proportion and elegance to create a model for other bridges in America," said Linda Figg, president of the FIGG Bridge Engineers design firm.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"They had much more of that than the other teams and that, especially in a compressed project timeline, gave us a great deal of confidence," he said.

But an attorney representing two of the losing teams said he's not happy that MnDOT signed a contract immediately after the ruling. Dean Thomson, who represents Maple Grove-based C.S. McCrossan and Burnsville-based Ames Construction, says he'll examine the ruling and will then determine a next step. He said a lawsuit, which could delay construction, is a possibility, especially since Flatiron's price-tag is so much higher.

"This is $57 million at issue here. What we will do is actually take a look at the proposals and see whether this is truly worth $57 million more at a time when MnDOT has will be in the red in the near future," Thomson said.

MnDOT officials have said at recent legislative hearings that they could run out of money by the end of next year. A special panel of state lawmakers is considering a Pawlenty administration request that calls for authorizing $195 million in state money to pay for the bridge. The federal government is expected to pick up most of the bridge costs but a large part of that money hasn't come through yet. The panel of lawmakers will hold another hearing on the request on Tuesday.