MILAN - The iconic Milan Bridge will be replaced in 2019 with a "plain and simple" concrete span structure.

Representatives of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's district office in Willmar this week outlined early plans for replacing, rather than rehabilitating, the 1938 bridge to about two dozen Milan area residents.

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The open house meeting Wednesday was the first to gather public input as designs for the new bridge are developed, according to Teal Spellman, project manager with MnDOT.

"We have not put pencil to paper yet,'' said Spellman, who encouraged Milan residents to let the department know their wishes.

The Milan Bridge is part of a historic district recognizing the largest flood control project in the state's history. It was undertaken in the late 1930s by the Works Progress Administration. As many as 1,500 workers developed a number of water retention structures in the Upper Minnesota River Valley, according to Sue Granger, a historian working with MnDOT on the project.

Along with its historic significance, the steel truss bridge located on Minnesota Highway 40, midway on the Lac qui Parle reservoir, is also well-known thanks to Madison native Robert Bly and his poem, "Driving Toward the Lac qui Parle River.''

MnDOT originally planned to rehabilitate the bridge at an estimated cost of $2.6 million. Federal law requires preference be given to preserving rather than replacing the structure due to its historical significance.

The department was able to get authority to replace the bridge after Milan area residents raised concerns about safety and the limitations the steel truss structure poses for modern farm machinery and large vehicles that can meet on it. The bridge allows for 15.9 feet of vertical clearance and 27 feet of horizontal clearance, according to information provided earlier by MnDOT.

MnDOT is budgeting $6 million in bonding monies for the replacement bridge project. It will provide 36 feet of width between railings, and there will be no vertical limitations, according to information presented at the meeting.

"Bring it into modern times and make it safe,'' said one meeting participant when Spellman initially asked what people wanted in a new bridge.

Granger said efforts will be made to preserve and rehabilitate as much of the hand-placed, stone riprap that lines the shoreline on both ends of the bridge. MnDOT is obligated to do all it can to "avoid, reduce, or mitigate'' the adverse impacts to the historical resources at the site, she explained.

The need to meet those requirements is one of the reasons the concrete replacement will be purposely "plain and simple," Spellman told the audience.

Spellman said MnDOT will award a contract for the replacement project on March 22, 2019. While that date is firm, Spellman said MnDOT could consider delaying the actual construction work until winter to avoid the disruptions that fluctuating water levels could pose on Lac qui Parle Lake during the warm season months.