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Answer Man: Five options to bridge the gap in Winona

The Mississippi River bridge at Winona under construction in the early 1940s. The bridge was dedicated in November 1942, and MnDOT is now deciding whether to renovate or demolish it.

Dear Answer Man, the Post-Bulletin had a story on the five options for the new Mississippi River bridge at Winona but it didn't compare the costs of the five options. How much money would they save, if any, with the other options? -- River Rat

Good question. To recap, the Minnesota Highway 43 bridge at Winona is in the midst of a $150-170 milion improvement project. A new two-lane bridge already has been built next to the historic steel span, one of the most distinctive in Minnesota, and now it's time for the historic one to get its closeup. But MnDOT says that work will now cost about $30 million more than planned . They say that's largely becuase it's deteriorated more quickly than expected.

MnDOT had a public meeting Monday night to get community reaction. Here are the options and price tags:

Option 1: Go ahead and renovate it as planned. The cost, as noted, is $30 million above budget -- $20 million for the work and $10 million for engineering.

Option 2: Renovate it but use a lot of "non-historical" elements.The central span would be kept but much of the rest would be modern construction. Without going into fine points, this would cost about $7-9 million.


Option 3: Knock it down.The historic bridge would be demolished, at a cost of $7-10.5 million, and no replacement would be planned. MnDOT says among the downsides of this: Two more lanes will be needed in a few decades, and eventually the $50-70 million (in today's dollars) for a new bridge will have to be spent.

Option 4: Convert it into a pedestrian bridge.Like Option 3, this doesn't answer what MnDOT says is the need for two more lanes for traffic, plus it would cost $10-30 million.

Option 5; Fix it so it's road-worthy for just 20 more years:MnDOT would spend $15-40 million to make the bridge functional but wouldn't address "fracture-critical" issues. Some of us would call this "deferred maintenance."

Personally, it looks to me like there are only two options. Working backwards, no one would think Option 5 is cost-effective, Option 4 is absurd and Option 3 doesn't get the job done, plus it destroys a 74-year-old landmark that's one of the loveliest along the entire length of the Mississippi River.

In my humble opinion, Option 2 heavily compromises that landmark -- it's not a whole lot different than demolition -- but at least it's a credible financial alternative.

MnDOT expects to start "eliminating options" in early June, according to project manager Terry Ward. They plan to put out initial contracts for bids in spring 2017 and complete the project in 2019.

MnDOT has an excellent project webpage and a Winona Bridge Project Facebook page that cover the topic well, and I'll attach a helpful document to this column online that explains the financial options.

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