New 35W bridge may open in Sept., three months early

Bridge project manager Peter Sanderson says the reinforcing steel bar, or rebar, is laid out in a grid designed specifically for the bridge to attain maximum strength. It will be covered with concrete tested to meet special requirements, including corrosion resistance.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Work on the new Interstate 35W bridge is progressing so well that construction managers said Saturday they expect to open it by mid-September instead of late December as originally scheduled.

Managers for Flatiron Constructors Corp. said during a weekly public tour of the construction site Saturday that the bridge is 65 percent complete, and they could begin hanging concrete segments over the Mississippi River as soon as May 14 or 15. That's three months earlier than originally scheduled.

Flatiron's reward for getting the job done early could be an extra $20 million in federal funds, the Star Tribune reported.

The boat hull-shaped truss forms are being built, and then the casting shed slides into place over them to protect them from the cold weather. The temperature must stay above freezing so the concrete poured for the bridge truss cures properly.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

The company's $234 million contract with the state calls sets a Dec. 24 completion date, but includes a $200,000-a-day incentive for each day the bridge is finished before that, up to 100 days.

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Sept. 15 would be 100 days early, and "we fully intend to make that," said Peter Sanderson, Flatiron's manager for the project.

The contract would also pays the builders $7 million if they make the Dec. 24 deadline without asking for additional money to complete the work.

The incentives would be paid with federal funds, said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which has mainly an oversight role over the project.

Bridge deck
A collapsed portion of the I-35W bridge deck.
National Transportation Safety Board

MnDOT is more cautious about exactly when the bridge will be completed.

"We are certainly ahead of schedule, there's no question about that, but there's still a lot of work to be done," Gutknecht said. "MnDOT's not at a point where it's ready to say 'yeah, we're going to get done way early."'

Sanderson said Colorado-based Flatiron had been confident since the beginning that they could build at this speed. He also said the relative lack of snow this winter had helped.

The total cost of the project, including removal of the old bridge that collapsed Aug. 1, killing 13 people, is estimated at nearly $400 million. The federal government is covering almost all of that.

Opening the new bridge early would be a welcome relief to commuters and businesses affected by the collapse and the resulting detours. State officials estimated last fall that the closure was costing Minnesotans $400,000 a day in travel-related expenses alone. The $200,000 daily incentive was arrived at by dividing that number in half.

Gutknecht said the $400,000 figure, which was based on drive times and fuel costs at the time, is a minimum.

"When we figured it out," he said, "fuel was quite a bit cheaper."