MnDOT postpones Milan Bridge decision until 2016

MONTEVIDEO -- The Minnesota Department of Transportation is putting a decision whether to rehabilitate or replace the Milan Bridge on hold until the spring of 2016.

Milan Bridge
The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced it is delaying a decision on whether to rehabilitate or replace the Milan Bridge until the spring of 2016. (FILE | TRIBUNE)

MONTEVIDEO - The Minnesota Department of Transportation is putting a decision whether to rehabilitate or replace the Milan Bridge on hold until the spring of 2016.
The District 8 office in Willmar announced Tuesday that it is going to work with members of the Milan community in late July and August to gather input before making a decision, according to an email sent to concerned citizens in the affected area.
The notice reached citizens shortly after members of the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday afternoon calling on MnDOT to replace rather than rehabilitate the bridge.
Ron Anderson, a former mayor and business owner in Milan, met with the commissioners Tuesday afternoon. He was on his way to Madison to ask support for the same resolution from the Lac qui Parle County Board of Commissioners as MnDOT made its announcement.
“The vast majority want that bridge replaced,’’ Anderson told the Chippewa County Commissioners.
He said the safety of children attending the Lac qui Parle Valley Schools is the main concern. Twice each day during the school year, two buses with children, 17 students in their own vehicles, and 16 staff members in their vehicles cross the bridge.
The school district covers 765 miles of open prairie, yet the bridge represents the greatest safety concern during adverse weather in the winter. Winds whipping across the lake create white-out conditions at a much higher frequency than experienced on any other roads in the rural district, according to a letter the Lac qui Parle Valley School District provided MnDOT.
MnDOT had been planning to rehabilitate the bridge originally built in 1938, and had scheduled a bid letting in May for the estimated $2.6 million project. The Willmar district office put those plans temporarily on hold after an April 23 meeting in Milan at which area residents expressed their alarm that the bridge was being rehabilitated rather than replaced.
Many of those attending the meeting said they were not aware that the project had been changed from replacement to rehabilitation. MnDOT had posted its plans for rehabilitating rather than replacing the bridge for three years.
The change was made due to an analysis required to receive federal highway dollars for the project. The Milan Bridge is part of a historic district due to the Works Progress Administration water control projects in the area.
Federal law requires that it rehabilitate rather than replace historic structures, unless there is “no feasible and prudent alternative,’’ according to information presented by MnDOT at the meeting in April.
Residents at the meeting cited both safety and economic concerns about keeping the historic bridge. The steel truss bridge allows for 15.9 feet of vertical clearance and 27 feet of horizontal clearance. That is not large enough to accommodate large farm equipment when there is oncoming traffic, residents said.
Since the original citizens meeting, Anderson has been meeting with local governmental units in the area to gather support for replacing the bridge. He said that the Lac qui Parle Valley School District and communities of Watson, Milan and Madison have already approved resolutions. He was optimistic that the cities of Appleton and Holloway and Swift County would join Chippewa and Lac qui Parle counties in the same.
MnDOT is delaying a decision to make sure it can gather all of the available information from those affected and fully understand the concerns, according to Susann Karnowski, project manager.
If a decision is made next spring to rehabilitate the bridge, it could be placed for a bid letting in 2016.
If the decision is to replace the bridge, the project would be pushed further down the road by a few years at least. MnDOT would need to perform the design and engineering work, acquire additional right of way, and obtain additional funding. An earlier estimate indicated that a new bridge would cost in the range of $5 million to $6 million, although MnDOT will be doing a new estimate to get a more accurate number, the project manager said.


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