MILAN - Work begins Monday to remove one of the region's best-known icons, the Milan Bridge crossing Lac qui Parle Lake on state Highway 40.

It will be replaced with a much wider, and longer, concrete span bridge, but the project also calls for saving the Works Progress Administration stonework on both sides of the bridge to preserve as much of the historic character of the area as possible. Like putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle, the project will require that all of the stonework placed there by hand in 1939 be removed, numbered, and returned to the same location, again by hand.

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"It's a complex project to say the least," said Gene East, project manager with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, in describing the overall project at an open house meeting on Wednesday in Milan.

Robert R. Schroeder Construction Company of Glenwood is the primary contractor for the $7.7 million project. Crews will be working six days a week, sunup to sundown, in order to have the new bridge open to traffic by Oct. 1, according to Dave Schroeder of the company. A detour will be required through the construction period.

The new bridge will feature seven-foot-wide sidewalks with railings on both of its sides along with a 34-foot-wide traffic road, including shoulders. It will span 160 feet from abutment to abutment, or almost 40 feet longer than the current bridge. Its deck bottom will be about a foot and a half higher over the river channel. The new bridge channel will be able to accommodate a larger volume of water.

The Milan Bridge was erected in 1939 as part of the Lac qui Parle flood control project undertaken by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration. The bridge itself is not particularly historic, according to East, but it is part of a historic district.

The steel, overhead truss bridge was one of the bridges identified as "fracture critical" following the collapse of the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis in 2007.

MnDOT originally proposed to rehabilitate the bridge based on the historic perspective, according to East. Milan area residents, elected officials and commercial interests said they wanted a new bridge.

East said a new bridge also needed to continue to provide the fishing and pedestrian uses and aesthetics of the current bridge. MnDOT worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, State Historic Preservation Office and local residents to develop the current plans. "The end result of that is a lot of balance and compromise in the design," he said.

East termed the $7.7 million project a "difficult sell" from a budget perspective when considering the traffic volumes at the site. MnDOT estimated in 2014 that it would cost $2.6 million to rehabilitate the existing bridge. Traffic data from 2016 show adjusted, average daily traffic counts of 700 on the east side and 400 on the west side to the junction with state Highway 119.

The project is purposely being condensed into a single season to minimize the impact on its local users, including the Lac qui Parle Valley School District. "This is a tremendous amount of work squeezed into one season," East said.

Boat traffic will be allowed to continue through the bridge channel during the construction period. MnDOT will also keep access open to the fishing pier, public boat access and Randall's Milan Beach Resort, all located on the east side of the bridge.

Al Setrum, MnDOT construction manager, said he's hopeful the project can meet its projected overall completion date of Nov. 15. Adverse weather during the construction season could delay it.

There are other issues that could delay work too. No one is sure how long it will take to remove all the stonework and put it back as it was. And, until the contractor is farther along in the project, it is impossible to know the condition of the supporting infrastructure below the bridge and underwater, Setrum noted.