I-35W bridge engineer to lead Stillwater bridge project

St. Croix bridge renderings
Ames Construction employees Jason Luhman and Marty Husnik, right, examine St. Croix River Crossing bridge renderings during a press conference and open house about the bridge project at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater, Minn. Tuesday, March 13, 2012.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Minnesota transportation officials announced Tuesday that the St. Croix bridge project will be managed by John Chiglo, the engineer who led the Interstate 35W bridge project five years ago.

Construction of the new $676 million bridge that will span Oak Park Heights and St. Joseph, Wis., is expected to begin in 2014, and take about three years to complete.

President Barack Obama has yet to sign the bridge bill into law, but Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said that's a formality.

"He's got 10 business days to sign the bill and his pattern is to at least wait five days before he signs any bill," Sorel said. "But I will say this, that every indication that we look at says that it will be signed and will move forward."

Sorel said Chiglo was the best choice because of his experience on the new I-35W bridge — which was built after the old bridge collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people.

"That was another project that was under a lot of scrutiny, a lot of national attention just as this project will be," Sorel said. "Jon handled that very, very well and did a tremendous, tremendous job delivering that for us."

Chiglo said the process for selecting the bridge designer will begin as soon as the president signs the bill. Construction on the span is expected to begin in 2014.

In the meantime, Chiglo said crews will begin testing the soil near the site of the new bridge this summer.

"As part of that activity, we'll drive shafts into the river in the locations of our piers and we'll apply forces to those shafts to verify different design capacities associated with soil conditions of the riverbed and this is something that you should anticipate seeing problems through the summer," Chiglo said.

MnDOT officials say they're committed to transparency and communication as the new bridge is built. They're providing community and business liasons to address any concerns and recruit minority contractors for the mega project.

The new four-lane highway bridge will take car traffic off the aging Stillwater Lift Bridge.

The lift bridge will be converted to a bicycle and pedestrian trail linked to other bikeways in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The project will reconstruct highway approaches on both sides of the new bridge.

And the plan includes special protections for sensitive historic and environmental resources along the federally protected St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.

For the new bridge project to move forward, lawmakers had to exempt it from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. That move angered environmental advocates, who fear the bridge will lead to sprawl in Wisconsin that could harm the river valley and water quality.

Dan Gavin is chair of the town of St. Joseph, site of the Wisconsin side of the new bridge, and with a population of about 4,000 people. He said the town's long-term plans account for potential development near the bridge. But so far, he said, he hasn't heard of any new development plans.

"We don't necessarily see it as a financial boom whatsoever. We want to maintain our rural lifestyle out there and so forth. We don't expect it to be a major impact on the town," Gavin said.

Others familiar with the Wisconsin side of the bridge say commercial developers will likely wait until the bridge is closer to reality before making major investments.