Proposed bills could limit funds for interstate bridge
RED WING — A Visual Quality Advisory Board made up of Minnesota and Wisconsin residents recently wrapped up its recommendations for the new interstate bridge plans, but the process could be adversely impacted by legislation moving forward on both sides of the Mississippi River.
Chad Hanson, project manager at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, cautioned that the best-laid plans could also be impacted by legislation proposed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Minnesota Rep. Steve Drazkowski. In a nutshell, the proposed legislation seeks to prohibit funding for visual quality items in road construction projects.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, says Drazkowski described the legislation as supporting "what's safe versus what's pretty." Drazkowski was not immediately available for comment.
"It wouldn't preclude Red Wing from (adding aesthetics) in the project," Kelly said. "It just means they couldn't use state funding."
Despite some opposition, Drazkowski's proposal was included by Kelly in the House's transportation bill. It's not part of the Senate's transportation bill. Discussions begin next week in melding those two bills, and it's expected to face renewed opposition.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are evenly splitting costs for the U.S. Highway 63 bridge project that could cost up to $120 million. The proposed legislation would impact about $3 million in funding for the river bridges, or $1.5 million on each side of the river. Additional funding could also be cut from the approach bridges on the Minnesota side.
Specifically, Hanson said the reduced funding could mean removing bridge spires, overlooks on the bridge and other upgrades.
"We've been told if we get our environmental documents signed by the end of June, there's a good chance we can get that grandfathered in," Hanson told the Red Wing City Council. "We're really trying to push it so we can get this done, but there's always that risk."
A public hearing on the project's environmental review is expected to be held in late June at the Red Wing Public Library, and Hanson is hopeful that a finding of no significant impacts will be declared by October.
Those benchmarks would pave the way for final design and right-of-way acquisition to be finalized by late 2016, Hanson said. Construction remains on track to begin in 2017 and wrap up in 2019.
In addition to sharing concerns about the proposed legislation, Hanson provided details on a number of "subtle things" related to the bridge construction.
A neighborhood vote will be held this summer to determine if a 1,300-foot, 20-foot-high wall will be built as a noise deterrent along U.S. Highway 61 in front of Barn Bluff. MnDOT deemed it a cost-effective project to coincide with the new buttonhook ramp that will divert most of Wisconsin traffic to U.S. 61 rather than downtown Red Wing, as it's currently aligned.
MnDOT is also finalizing details for a 12-foot cycle track that would run into downtown Red Wing and likely connect to local trails. Hanson called it a logistical "challenge," but the planned path across the bridge makes it a necessity.
The new bridge will replace the current Eisenhower Bridge, which is considered fracture critical.