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National Parks Service has concerns about cable bridge option

An artist's rendering of what the cable-supported bridge would look like.

Concerns raised by the National Parks Service, and general scheduling conflicts, have caused a delay in the release of the request for proposals (RFP) for the Highway 61 bridge replacement project.

The RFP will likely include both the cable-supported and the arch bridge options. MnDOT decided to include both bridges in hopes it would create more competitive bidding from contractors.

According to MnDOT Project Manager Steve Kordosky, the National Parks Service brought up concerns surrounding the cable-supported bridge option. The NPS is worried the cable bridge doesn't fit the setting of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, the national park that runs along the Mississippi River from near Ramsey, Minn., to just south of Ravenna Township. The NPS feels the arch bridge is more appropriate for the river corridor.

Kordosky said the NPS also raised concerns about the possibility of birds hitting parts of the cable bridge.

Since the bridge is part of a U.S. highway, inside a national park, and some federal money is being spent on the project, the NPS does have a say in what the bridge looks like, Kordosky said. Approval from the NPS is just one piece of the environmental work on the project, which is still ongoing.

The RFP was scheduled to go out to contractors this month, but it now appears it won't go out until mid-December. MnDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are currently working to address the concerns raised by the NPS. MnDOT is studying bird strikes on other cable bridges, and working with the NPS on its concerns over the design of the bridge.

If MnDOT and the NPS aren't able to come to come to an agreement, the issue could end up before the federal Council of Environmental Quality, but Kordosky hopes it does not get to that point.

Kordosky said the delay in the release of the RFP isn't solely because of the NPS' concerns. He said general scheduling conflicts within MnDOT and other agencies have also slowed the process.

The project was initially put on an aggressive schedule, Kordosky said, but noted that the delay in the release of the RFP isn't going to effect the timeline of the project. What it will do is create a shorter window of opportunity for contractors to submit their proposals, Kordosky said. If, however, MnDOT hears from the contractors that they don't have enough time to get their proposals together, it may have to push back the date on which a contractor is chosen.

If all goes according to plan, MnDOT hopes to have proposals back from contractors in March of next year and have a signed contract with a bridge builder in June, with work starting the same month.