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Wakota Bridge project completion moved up

published 11/25/2008
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Commuters in the southeast portion of the Twin Cities metropolitan area could get some relief a little sooner.

That was the message Department of Transportation officials shared with the House Commerce and Labor Committee.

The eastbound span of the delayed Wakota Bridge project should now open in July 2010, three months earlier than originally planned.

Scott McBride, the department’s Metro District engineer, said a couple of milestones are upcoming in the construction. A pier in the river should be complete in the next few weeks, meaning the year-long construction of the superstructure could begin in February. An overlay will then occur. He said once the eastbound span opens, there may still be occasional lane closures to finish some work, such as removing bypasses and completing median approaches.

As a bonus to commuters, a project to finish expanding Interstate 494 to three lanes from the Wakota Bridge to Interstate 94 has been accelerated to coincide with the eastbound span’s opening. It was initially planned for Fall 2011.

The bridge project, which began in 2002, was supposed to be finished about a year ago. Construction was halted in 2004 when stress cracks developed in the westbound span thanks to a design error. Working with a mediation board, a settlement was announced Nov. 18 whereby the design firm will pay MnDOT $20 million.

While the figure is about $300,000 more than it cost to retrofit the westbound span, it will not cover the approximately $56 million increase for the overall project. That disappoints Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Atkins (DFL-Inver Grove Heights), who noted that former Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau told the committee that MnDOT would seek the full cost differential. Commissioner Tom Sorel said the settlement was signed after consultation with the governor’s office.

Deputy Commissioner Khani Sahebjam noted that increased steel costs tied to a stronger design and inflation would have driven up costs anyway, but couldn’t say how much more.

The settlement money is to be received by the end of the year and put into the state’s Trunk Highway Fund. Sahebjam hopes it will be used on projects in the east metropolitan area.

In hopes of not repeating the situation, Sahebjam said MnDOT has instituted a policy whereby a third-party engineering consulting firm will be required to look at plans submitted by outside engineers for major projects.

- Mike Cook

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