River crossing officials add cranes to accelerate project
About one-third finished, the St. Croix River Crossing project heads into its prime construction season with officials hoping enough pieces will be in place by year’s end that the structure will at last begin resembling a bridge to passers-by.
“Right now, it’s looking good,” said Paul Kivisto, bridge construction engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, during a media tour of the project on Wednesday.
The project remains on track for a fall 2017 completion, a timetable that officials say is being expedited by the arrival of cranes that will help raise bridge segments from barges onto piers near the Wisconsin side of the crossing. The specialized “ringer cranes” -- two of them -- are being used to accelerate the bridge-building process while custom-designed segment lifting equipment is used on other portions of the project.
With the cranes comes an added cost, however. Kivisto estimated the monthly rental fee for the cranes at $60,000 to $80,000. Kivisto said the ringer cranes’ use will be limited to this year’s construction season.
He said 77 percent of the $336 million in funds allocated for contractor Lunda-Ames have been paid out so far. The total project cost is estimated at between $617 million and $646 million.
Negotiations between MnDOT and Lunda-Ames over additional project costs are ongoing, Kivisto said.
The second of the two cranes is expected to arrive in May after it’s floated up from Winona, Minn., where it is being assembled along the Mississippi River. One crane will be placed in the St. Croix River, while the other will be on a pad hoisting segments to piers on the Wisconsin side.
The cranes are a new development in the project, which experienced setbacks in 2015 that extended its completion date by a year. The delays left unfinished work on a Wisconsin-side pier that will be among the areas tended to by the ringer-crane system.
“By all indications, that will go well and will enable a good construction season,” Kivisto said.
The cranes and the segment lifters will hoist concrete bridge segments onto the structure, where as many as 400 workers a day will be on the job.
Kivisto said 115 remaining segments -- cast at a site in Grey Cloud Island, Minn. -- will continue to be floated 33 river miles from there to the project site.
Once complete, the bridge will comprise an expressway connecting Houlton with Oak Park Heights, Minn., and will replace the Stillwater Lift Bridge as that area’s main link across the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Kivisto said the river’s 300-foot navigational channel will remain open, but unlike last year, it won’t remain in one place. Instead, the channel’s location will shift from week to week depending on which segments are being erected at any given time, Kivisto explained.
He advised boaters to be aware of the changing channel and noted that, like last year, a Department of Natural Resources boat will patrol the area to ensure boaters are obeying rules near the project.
“It’s going to be a busy river in 2016,” Kivisto said, adding that the project area is a no-wake zone.
Evening work was set to begin Monday, April 25, where ironworkers will be on the job until at least midnight. Kivisto said ironworkers could be on the job 24 hours a day as project progresses over the summer.
The project won’t prove much of a factor to the traveling public on the Wisconsin side, said Wisconsin Department of Transportation Project Manager Tara Weiss. Paving will be done on the approach roadway between May and July.
She acknowledged that some curious onlookers have taken to agate hunting near the project site -- an activity Weiss said is “definitely not recommended.” Heavy machinery is at work in the area and poses a safety hazard for non-authorized people on the site, she said.