Update: Red River bridge to be closed for a week

ST. PAUL - Minnesota and North Dakota officials closed a northwestern Minnesota bridge three months after an inspection showed no serious problems, but Minnesota inspectors today said the bridge near Drayton, N.D., was not about to collapse.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota and North Dakota officials closed a northwestern Minnesota bridge three months after an inspection showed no serious problems, but Minnesota inspectors today said the bridge near Drayton, N.D., was not about to collapse.

The Tuesday night closure was to allow crews to repair a crack found in a steel support, Minnesota Bridge Engineer Dan Dorgan said.

A May inspection showed a minor crack in a weld, but a special inspection Tuesday - part of a program of special inspections Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered after a Minneapolis bridge collapsed Aug. 1 - discovered the crack had spread into an I-beam.

Dorgan said welding standards were not as high when the bridge was built in 1954 as they are today.

The bridge, across the Red River between Drayton and Robbin, Minn., should be closed about a week while crews fix the crack, which is less than two inches long.


Repair crews will add an additional support beam and also drill a hole at the end of the crack, which Dorgan said should stop it from growing.

"A crack in the weld is not an uncommon occurrence," Dorgan said.

Dorgan said the crack is in a beam near the outside edge of the bridge's approach on the North Dakota side. The area carries less weight than center parts of the bridge and is one of five beams that back up each other, he added, so the span was in no danger of collapsing.

Originally, Minnesota Department of Transportation officials wanted to keep the bridge open, but only to one lane of traffic, according the Duane Hill, who heads the state's bridge inspection program. But in what Dorgan described as "a remote area," it would be difficult to do. Dorgan said that he did not want to keep a flag people on duty around-the-clock.

Dorgan indicated that since only 1,400 vehicles use the bridge each day that the inconvenience of closing the structure was not great.

But the Drayton mayor said the bridge is important.

"You're kidding," said Mayor Ardis Olson when told of the closing late Tuesday. "I'm shocked. It's a very important bridge for Drayton. Do you know how many sugar beet trucks go over that bridge?"

After first guiding vehicles over in single file in the evening hours while awaiting barricades and sandbags, transportation department employees put up wooden barricades closing down the bridge about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. The bridge links North Dakota Highway 66 with Minnesota Highway 11 leading to Donaldson, Minn.


Dorgan said emergency vehicles would be allowed over the bridge.

Closing Minnesota bridges for repair after an inspection happens a couple of times a year, Dorgan added.

North Dakota and Minnesota jointly own the bridge, but Minnesota crews conduct more inspections than North Dakota. In some cases, both states may check the bridge each year.

The 53-year-old bridge, 1,058 feet long, was inspected in May and was scheduled to be checked again next year, Dorgan said. North Dakota officials already were to begin the process of replacing the bridge in 2009.

In March, a high load from a truck hit a crossbeam on the bridge, closing it for a week or two while the steel crossbeam was replaced.

Sugar beet farmers and American Crystal Sugar Co. could be affected by the closure.

American Crystal began its "pre-pile" part of the harvest Monday, as each producer digs a few acres of beets to get the five processing plants up and running for when the full campaign begins at the end of September. Drayton's largest employer is the American Crystal's beet-processing factory a half mile north of the bridge near the Red River.

It employs 140 people year-round, and adds 75 more for the eight-month processing campaign. Nearly 1,000 producers grow beets that are processed at the factory. Many of the employees and farmers are on the Minnesota side of the river.


"This is going to create havoc with beet harvest starting," said Bev Jensen. She is the past mayor of Drayton and her husband, Gay Jensen, farms on the Minnesota side of the river.

An American Crystal spokesman, told of the bridge closure, said it was time for Plan B.

"If this is a Minnesota Department of Transportation decision, we will have to get word to our shareholders who normally go over that bridge, and we will have to route traffic into our factory," said Jeff Schweitzer, spokesman for the Moorhead-based American Crystal. "This is obviously a safety concern, and we will want to make sure we don't have any truck traffic on that bridge."

Olson said other employers and employees depend on the bridge, too.

Altru Health Systems in Grand Forks runs a clinic in Drayton with many patients from Minnesota, she said. Plus, a women's clothing maker, "Originals," in Drayton employs women from the east side of the Red, too, Olson said.

Meanwhile, Marvin Windows employees use the bridge a lot because it's the direct route between the Warroad mother plant and the newer one in Grafton.

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