Lane closures halfway done
Construction crews switched sides and began work on the east side of the Hastings bridge June 2, signaling the portion of the project requiring single-lane traffic on the bridge is about half done.
Minnesota Department of Transportation South Metro Area Manager Lynn Clarkowski said there is more work that has to be done on the east side than there was on the west side, so the work is expected to take a little longer than three weeks, which was how long the repairs on the west side took.
Clarkowski said from a construction schedule standpoint, the project is moving along smoothly, despite the rain the area has received over the past few weeks, and that it's still on the six- to eight-week timeline MnDOT laid out at the beginning of the project.
There is slightly more structural work that needs to be done on the east side of the bridge, as well as repairs to the sidewalk, which are the reasons it's expected to take longer, Clarkowski said.
From now until the bridge is fully open again, pedestrian and bicycle traffic won't be allowed to cross the bridge. The timing of the lights controlling traffic at each end of the bridge are such that they wouldn't give the average bicyclist enough time to cross the bridge before traffic starts to flow in the opposite direction, Clarkowski said, which is why bicycles are not allowed.
Next weekend, June 13-15, and the following weekend, June 20-22, the bridge will be closed completely from 9 p.m. on Friday to 5 a.m. the following Monday. During those weekends the bridge will be raised about a half inch so crews can work on bridge bearings.
Clarkowski told the Hastings Bridge Coalition Monday that June 27-30 is the backup weekend for closing the bridge if bad weather prevents work from being done on one of the previous two weekends.
Clarkowski said the decision on whether to close the bridge will be made on Friday evenings, just prior to the time it would close.
During the first three weeks of the project, the average wait time to get across the bridge once a person is in line has been about 20 minutes, which Clarkowski said is quicker than MnDOT thought it would be. A MnDOT spokesperson said they were expecting waits to be twice that length.
It was difficult during the first week to try to get drivers to use both lanes to line up and merge at set points, known as the "zipper" approach, but now it's going smoothly, Clarkowski said.
Another process coming along nicely is MnDOT's budget for the Hastings bridge replacement.
MnDOT is working with the range of $200-275 million for replacing the bridge. The exact dollar amount depends on the new bridge's final design, Clarkowski said.
The Hastings bridge is one of a few priority bridges the state legislature zeroed in on when it passed a new bridge replacement plan during the last session. That legislation put the Hastings bridge in the top tier for replacement. The bridge "is part of the skeleton of that plan" Clarkowski said, and will be fully funded by it.
She also gave an update of how the scoping study is going for the bridge replacement, which will narrow down the options for a new bridge to two or three choices.
The new bridge will be built with a 100-year life expectancy, Clarkowski said. About 20 different bridge types are being considered in the study, as is a long-term rehabilitation of the current bridge, which has to be done because the bridge is more than 50 years old and thus is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. A rough draft of the recommendations is expected to be completed by the end of September.
MnDOT is working with the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and National Parks Service to get an idea for their needs for the new bridge. Clarkowski said the Corps has indicated it does not want to see the main 514-foot river channel under the bridge narrowed, and if anything, would like to see it slightly widened.
The first phase of the decision-making process on the new bridge, where "community inventory and values" are studied, is nearly complete, according to a handout provided by Clarkowski.
The second phase, "goals, objectives and evaluation criteria," is about half done. The third and major phase of the process, in which alternative bridge types are considered, has just begun. The goal is to have the final "implementation" phase done by the end of 2008, according to the handout.
MnDOT has said its goal is to have the replacement under contract by June 2010, with construction starting a few months later. Between 2008 and June 2010 an 18- to 24-month environmental assessment will be completed, as will right of way acquisition.
Mayor Paul Hicks said it will be important during the replacement process to set up a fund that will help mitigate impacts on businesses or properties effected by the replacement.
Clarkowski said those issues will all be addressed and that MnDOT has a very specific formula for doing so. She said the goal will be to avoid and minimize the impacts before going to mitigation. A general idea of the impacts will be identified in the environmental assessment.