Winona bridge over Mississippi River reopens

Opening Highway 43 bridge
MnDOT opened the Highway 43 bridge in Winona over the Mississippi to auto traffic on Saturday morning. MnDOT closed the bridge about a week and half ago when it discovered potential problems with the bridge's gussett plates.
MPR Photo/Jessica Mador

Standing by the foot of the bridge on the Minnesota side, Sgt. Wayne Stow was directing traffic. He'd been there since 6 a.m Saturday answering lots of questions.

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"After the weekend, they may make a revision and change it, but for now they want it open, but they said no trailers," Stow said.

"No trailers at all," a driver asked.

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"Right," Sgt. Stow responded.

"Okay, thank you," said the driver.

The officer tells a disappointed man he can't take his trailer over the bridge, but still, Stow says most drivers are relieved.

Road sign
The Highway 43 over the Mississippi in Winona opened Saturday morning to auto traffic, but trailers, pedestrians and bicycles are prohibited on the bridge.
MPR Photo/Jessica Mador

"Everybody is just happy to be able to move from one side to the other without having to drive an extra hour round trip," he said.

The assigned detours are both about 30 miles farther along the river. That's a long way for the more than 11,000 cars and trucks that use the bridge every day.

But after reinspecting the 32 corroded gusset plates, transportation officials felt the bridge was safe enough to reopen to passenger cars. The bridge remains closed to trucks and all vehicles over eight and a half feet high. Pedestrians and bicycles are also banned, so the walkway can be repaired.

This was not news to Winona resident Katie Mae.

Bridge inspections
MnDOT workers inspect the gusset plates on the Highway 43 bridge over the Mississippi River in Winona. MnDOT officials closed the bridge after an inspection found potential porblems with the plates. The bridge was scheduled to reopen to auto traffic on Saturday.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"When I would go underneath it, it definitely felt like there were loud noises, and it shook a lot, and we used to joke, 'Oh they better close this bridge,' so it's a little weird that it's open again to cars," she said.

Mae says she's happy to hear the bike path will be fixed up, but says she is confident the state would not have reopened the bridge if it wasn't safe.

The Winona bridge was originally scheduled for replacement in 2017. But after the state passed a new transportation funding bill this session, the timeline was likely to be rushed. Its unclear how this new repair will impact that plan.

Closing the bridge cost the city of Winona about $95,000 just for the first week. Officials are still figuring out how much the truck detour could cost the Port of Winona, which handles a lot of traffic from Wisconsin.

Liz Haywood
Liz Haywood is the General Manager of a local coop in downtown Winona. When MnDOT officials reopened the Highway 43 bridge connecting Winona, Minn., and Wisconsin, she uncorked a bottle of champagne. She says the closure of the bridge cost her about 20 percent of her business.
MPR Photo/Jessica Mador

The mayor of Winona told Minnesota Public Radio he worries that companies might bypass the port altogether to avoid paying for costly detours.

But officials aren't the only ones worried about the impact on business. Liz Haywood says her business was down about 20 percent a day during the bridge closure. She manages the Bluff Country Coop in downtown Winona. About a third of the store's business comes from the Wisconsin side of the bridge.

"Once people found that they were having to add another couple of hours or even an hour to their day of travel, you know, finding a grocery store that was on the beaten path was really important for their lives," she said. "So they were going to the places on the highway and not in the downtown. They were not doing their normal shopping patterns."

Haywood says the store uncorked a bottle of champagne Saturday to celebrate the bridge's reopening.

Transportation officials are expected to complete their bridge analysis later this week. After that, MnDOT will begin accepting bids for the repair.