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Winona bridge will reopen to some traffic

By John Weiss

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

WINONA — The Minnesota Highway 43 bridge from Winona to Wisconsin will reopen late Friday or Saturday morning to car, pickup and van traffic, officials announced this morning, 10 days after the span was abruptly closed because of safety concerns.

However, the opening of the bridge over the Mississippi River will not allow heavy trucks or vehicles towing boats, until repairs are made, officials said. Ambulances can go across, but officials said fire trucks, because of their weight, cannot cross until traffic is halted to allow them to cross solo.

"We wanted to do this as quick as possible," said Steve Kirsch, assistant MnDOT engineer. "We aren’t going to string this out into the fall."

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Repair feasible

Dan Dorgan, the Minnesota Department of Transportation statewide bridge expert, said the preliminary analysis of the bridge is done, and officials found "it will be feasible to do a repair on the bridge" rather than replace it. Officials will put gusset plates over existing plates at 32 spots on the bridge. The bridge’s sidewalk will be closed to pedestrian and bicycle traffic during that time.

The gusset plates, which are used to connect the steel girders of the bridge, were identified as rusting and deteriorating, causing officials to close the bridge to traffic on June 3. Two other bridges in Minnesota spanning the Mississippi River have been closed for similar concerns.

Ferry service to end

Passenger ferry service, which started on Monday to transport workers across the Mississippi River, will end Friday night.

Dorgan said work has begun on securing contractors for the repair, which he said should be done by late summer or early fall, said Kirsch.

No cost estimates were available this morning, but Dorgan said the cost will exceed that for repairing the Blatnick Bridge in Duluth, which was more than $1 million.

More analysis of the bridge will be done next week, officials said, which will narrow traffic to a single lane next Thursday and Friday. Once construction work begins, the traffic again will be limited to a single lane, requiring waits at either side while vehicles cross. The process for the traffic flow still is being analyzed.

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Officials said a small ferry likely will operate between Latsch Island and Winona on weekends during the summer.

The bridge originally was scheduled for replacement in 2017, but officials said on Monday that MnDOT will announce new timelines for this bridge and others in the state that will likely speed up the repair or replacement processes.

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