Hwy. 99 bridge open

The Hwy. 99 bridge opened on Nov. 29 after being closed since March.

After eight long months, the Hwy. 99 bridge is finally open again.

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials announced Tuesday the bridge would be complete enough to open on Wednesday afternoon. All that remained on Tuesday morning was to install a traffic rail on the north side of the bridge and to paint pavement markings.

“At this point, I can’t envision what could set us back a day or two,” MnDOT construction lead Todd Kjolstad said.

The bridge, which connects the city of St. Peter and Ottawa Township in Le Sueur County, has been closed for a rehabilitation since March. The $4.4 million project preserved the bridge, whose condition had been deemed poor.

The project included strengthening the truss floor beams, repairing the piers and abutment, adding riprap or rocks around abutments, replacing the bridge deck and sidewalk and repainting the structure the original color of a dark green.

The bridge is 403 feet long and dates to 1931. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and was one of 24 state bridges selected for special preservation.

That historic design and its unique appearance meant MnDOT worked closely with the Minnesota Historical Society and its companion agency, the State Historical Preservation Office. Historical preservationists wanted to maintain the bridge’s appearance while reinforcing its structural integrity.

That desire led to some of the delays on the rehabilitation project. The project was originally scheduled for an Oct. 31 completion. Crews waited for fabrication of a new rocker bearing assembly, which is a critical piece that allows the bridge to move with traffic. Other plates and brackets also needed replacement, which added to the delays.

“Given the set of circumstances, we were pretty efficient for approvals for parts,” Kjolstad said. “We did walk into stuff that we couldn’t have anticipated with the bearing assemblies.”

From there, the project had smooth sailing, Kjolstad said. When the eastern half of the bridge began the paint removal and repainting process a few weeks ago, crews from Kraemer North America LLC, of Plain, Wisconsin, worked 24/7.

“There were a lot of lessons from the first half that the contractor applied to the second half, how to attack the rivets, how to attack the faces, the best technique on those things,” Kjolstad said.

There will be a few pieces to get more attention in 2018. The first is installation of new lights along the pedestrian crossing.

“The globes are still being manufactured,” Kjolstad said. “There’s only one manufacturer in the country, so that can take some time.”

They will be installed by late winter, which will not affect traffic.

And the spots that anchored the posts for the paint tent will need to endure the same rust and paint removal and repainting. That will require single-lane closures sometime in the spring for up to three weeks.

People and businesses on both sides of the bridge will be thankful it is reopening.

“St. Peter has kind of gotten a black eye with just how bad the traffic has been,” said Ed Lee, St. Peter Area Chamber of Commerce president. “We are thrilled that it will be opening again and traffic can flow to those businesses and also that the black eye starts to heal.”

The project is the most recent in a long list of MnDOT projects for the main thoroughfares through St. Peter to upgrade and repair road infrastructure, for which local officials are grateful. Lee said this project, in particular, will boost tourism and potentially draw more people to the river.

“It’s one of many things that makes St. Peter a destination,” he said.

Reach Associate Editor Nancy Madsen at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @SPHnancy.

Nancy Madsen has written for newspapers in Watertown, N.Y., and Mankato, as well as for PolitiFact Virginia at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. Nancy is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., and Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

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