By Emily Bialkowski
If you’re part of the daily diaspora that leaves Houston County each morning for work, brace yourself for the ride home. For two years – beginning next spring – the southbound exit off Interstate 90 leading to Hwy. 61 in La Crescent will be closed, completely closed. Construction of the new I-90 Dresbach Bridge is fueling the inconvenience. Drivers will be directed two miles north to the exit at Dresbach as an alternative.
“Hopefully, through good communication with the public, this won’t be a surprise when it happens and people can plan their route,” said Kristin Kammueller, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) community relations coordinator. “We want to make people aware of what’s to come to hopefully lessen their annoyance with us.”
Construction will last through 2016 and includes building two separate bridges parallel and upstream from the existing bridge.
The primary purpose of the project is to provide a new, structurally sound I-90 river crossing bridge that meets current structural and geometric standards on this important regional river crossing, and to provide a reconstructed interchange that improves traffic safety, capacity and access on and between Highway 61/14 and I-90. It will cost an estimated $175 to $225 million.
Mark Anderson is the project manager and said, so far, the project is on time. “There have been no glitches except for the wet spring, but we made up the time with the dry summer and fall.”
He’s keenly aware of what the exit closure means for travelers. “That’s where the big mess will be,” Anderson said. The rest area will also be closed during that time.
The enormity of this undertaking can’t be understated. The bridge spans the Mississippi River between Dresbach, Minn., and La Crosse, Wis. Built in 1967, it is a 2,490-foot-long, four-lane bridge. The existing, fracture-critical bridge has narrow shoulders that cause lane closures when vehicles are stranded and during routine maintenance operations. Current interchange geometry creates difficult and unsafe traffic movements for commuter traffic, according to MnDOT engineers. In addition, it is a highly sensitive environmental area with towering bluffs on one side and the river on the other.
Such concerns were paramount for Terry Ward, another project manager on the site. “From a design perspective, it’s a real tough corridor,” he said. “You’ve got the bluffs, lock and dam and the river. We really wanted to protect the environmental resources. The goal was to minimize any intrusion into the bluff, and if we could have we would have done no cutting into the bluff.”
To keep the public involved MnDOT has created a user friendly website dedicated to providing information on the bridge project. There, visitors will find up to date information on lane closures and progress. They can also see photos and video and learn about the project’s background. Commuters might want to consider bookmarking the page because everybody is in this for the long haul.