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Fixing the 1942 Winona Bridge is the ultimate DIY project

The new Minnesota Highway 43 bridge, left, and the 1942 Winona Bridge over the Mississippi River stand side by side on Aug. 4. The remnants of the old rail bridge can be seen at right. The new bridge opens today, and rehabilitation work on the 1942 bridge begins this fall.

WINONA — Bob Vila never faced a do-it-yourself project like this.

WIth the opening of the new Minnesota Highway 43 bridge in Winona today, the old bridge, built in 1942, will undergo a major rehabilitation. Work will start this fall and continue through fall 2019, according to Beth Burton, the Minnesota Department of Transportation project engineer overseeing the rehab project.

The rehabilitation will extend the design life of the through-truss section of the bridge by 50 years. The deck-truss section and approach spans, the design of which MnDOT will determine in spring 2017, will have a 75-year design life. Terry Ward, project manager with MnDOT, said the design extension for the through-truss portion could allow for further rehabilitation and extend the design life.

So, what does a DIY project look like when the fixer-upper is an interstate bridge over the Mississippi River instead of a turn-of-the-centuryVictorian? Here are the basic steps MnDOT will take to rehabilitate the 1942 Winona Bridge:

• In early December, close the bridge to traffic, add a safe span and lead paint contamination system to the through-truss section of the bridge. The safe span is a walkway underneath the deck that allows workers access to the bridge. The contamination system consists of enclosing the through-truss portion of the bridge in tarps and creating a negative air pressure environment to contain paint, steel and concrete particles so they do not pollute the river or nearby ground.


• Starting in spring 2017 on the through-truss section, remove the concrete deck of the bridge — the roadway — and replace it with a temporary deck made of treated wood panels.

• Sandblast structure to remove lead paint.

• Conduct detailed repairs along the through-truss sections. Those repairs include strengthening the floor beam connections on the structure by rehabilitating existing supports, rehabilitating the through-truss system over the bridge and adding internal redundancy systems so the bridge meets all current state and federal highway bridge standards.

• Install new concrete deck for the through-truss section and paint bridge components.

• Starting in spring 2017, demolish approach spans -- to maintain access, this will occur one approach at a time -- starting with the south (Winona) side of the bridge.

• Construct the new south approach spans to the through truss either in the full historical rebuild or to match the new bridge opened today.

• With the new south approach finished, demolish the north (Latsch Island) approach spans.

• Construct the new north approach spans to the through truss.


• Finish the plaza area under the Winona approach spans, This work is separate from the MnDOT work on the bridge.

• Fall 2019: Open the new bridge.

Rail Bridge

Chicago & North Western Railway Bridge

Built in 1871, the swing span collapsed on first use. The swing span allowed boats to pass by pivoting when river traffic approached. After the initial problem, the bridge was reopened in 1872 and continued to carry rail traffic until it closed Dec. 24, 1977.

Ferry Bridge

Opened in 1887 at a cost of $9,500, the Ferry Bridge crossed the Mississippi River just halfway, connecting Wisconsin to Latsch Island. Made of wood in 1887, the low bridge essentially blocked river traffic on the Wisconsin channel of the Mississippi. Ferries then would take wagons and people from the island to Winona. The bridge was rebuilt with concrete in 1917, 1947 and 2004.


High Bridge

Opened in 1892 at a cost of roughly $100,000, the High Bridge was designed to carry wagon traffic from Latsch Island to Winona while giving clearance to boat traffic on the main channel of the Mississippi. Made of steel girders and a wooden deck, the bridge connected with the Ferry Bridge and included two 90-degree turns -- one at Johnson Street, the second at Main and Third streets -- on the approach that tended to cause accidents on the bridge. The bridge was torn down in 1943.

Bridge 5900

Opened in 1942 at a cost of $1.5 million, the steel bridge with concrete deck was designed by MnDOT as a cantilever through truss bridge, one of the few of its type remaining in Minnesota. The bridge was closed after the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis because both bridges had similar gusset plates, an element that was part of the I-35W bridge failure. Rehabilitation and reconstruction originally were estimated at $142 -- including the cost of the new two-lane bridge opened today -- but accelerated deterioration of the through trusses added $30 million to a full historical rebuild of the bridge and approach spans. "The deck trusses are in really poor condition and will be replaced," said Terry Ward, of MnDOT.

Bridge 85851

A concrete box girder bridge, the new $79 million bridge was built upstream of the 1942 bridge to give added collision protection to the older bridge. The new bridge, which rises 410 feet over the river, includes wide shoulders and a pedestrian and cycling lane with two scenic overlook spots. "You're going to see a lot of people stopping to look at the view," said MnDOT spokesman Mike Dougherty. The bridge was designed to last 100 years with routine maintenance. 

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