Bridge project clears another hurdleThe Highway 61 bridge replacement process took a big step forward last week when transportation officials announced the bridge will not have a “significant impact on the human environment.”
By: Keith Grauman, The Hastings Star-Gazette
The Highway 61 bridge replacement process took a big step forward last week when transportation officials announced the bridge will not have a “significant impact on the human environment.”
The “finding of no significant impact” is a major step in the environmental planning process for the new bridge. Without it, or if studies had determined the bridge would have had a significant impact on the human environment, it would have set the project back a year to 18 months, as more environmental work would have been needed, according to Steve Kordosky, the Minnesota Department of Transportation project manager for the bridge replacement.
“It’s certainly a milestone that we needed to achieve to issue the RFP (request for proposals),” Kordosky said.
The replacement Highway 61 bridge will have two lanes going both north and south, and a bike and pedestrian trail on the east side of the bridge. It will be either a cable-supported or arch bridge design, and will cost about $265 million (in 2013 dollars) to build. Construction is expected to take about three-and-a-half years and it will get under way in summer 2010.
MnDOT sent the RFP to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Tuesday morning, and the FHWA will have a two-week review period. In mid-January, the RFP will be sent to potential design/build contractor teams.
The three design/build teams that MnDOT has approved for the project and are likely to issue proposals have seen draft documents of the RFP, Kordosky said. Both bridge types, the cable-supported and arch, will be included in the RFP. It will be up to the builders to submit in their proposals information about which bridge is the most cost-effective. Once they have the full RPF, the builders have about three months to draw up their proposals, but that time frame isn’t set in stone and could change depending on how complex the RFP is and how much time the builders tell MnDOT they need.
“We want them to look at both bridges,” Kordosky said. “We don’t want the time table to be so small that they’d have to make a snap decision.”
While the “finding of no significant impact” covers the human environment, there are still a few outstanding issues when it comes to how the bridge will effect the surrounding environment for animals.
The National Parks Service raised concerns last fall about how the new bridge could impact birds, especially when it came to birds hitting the superstructure of the bridge while flying over the river corridor. The concerns were the same for both potential bridge types.
Kordosky said MnDOT officials worked with the NPS and came to a compromise wherein MnDOT will fund a $100,000 “bird strike study” on the bridge once it’s complete. That information will be available for use on future projects when bird strikes are a concern.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also brought up concerns about certain mussel populations that are living upstream from the bridge, adjacent to the Flint Hills Nature Preserve, which is where the MnDOT staging area will be during the project.
Kordosky said the DNR isn’t requiring MnDOT to move the mussels, which has been the case on other projects, but instead MnDOT will fund a future study or research on mussels as a compromise.