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John A. Weeks III
Sunday, April 20, 2014, 8:54:03 AM CDT
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Wakota Bridge
I-494 Mississippi River Crossing
South Saint Paul, MN to Newport, MN

I-494 Bridge

Eastbound Span
• Structure ID: NBI: 82855.
• Highway: I-494 Eastbound.
• Width: 86 Feet, 5 Traffic Lanes.
• Date Built: Opened July 1, 2010.
 
Westbound Span
• Structure ID: NBI: 82856.
• Highway: I-494 Westbound.
• Width: 99 Feet, 5 Traffic Lanes.
• Date Built: Opened August 2006.
 
Statistics Common To Both Spans
• Location: River Mile 832.40.
• River Elevation: 686 Feet.
• Daily Traffic Count: 89,000 (2007).
• Bridge Type: Post-tensioned Continuous Concrete Box Girder.
• Length: 1,892 Feet, 466 Foot Longest Span.
• Navigation Channel Width: 450 Feet (Estimated).
• Height Above Water: 58 Feet.
The old Wakota Bridge was been a southeast metro area landmark since it was built. While the bridge was still sound, it was simply overwhelmed by traffic, with significant backups many hours each day. The new bridge combined with the US-61 freeway upgrade will dramatically improve quality of life for anyone who has to commute through that area. For example, the old bridge had 2 lanes in each direction, while the new bridge will have 5 lanes on each span. In fact, this will be the widest bridge in the state when it is completed. The new I-35W bridge was shown in early plans to be wider than the Wakota Bridge, but as built, the I-35W bridge ended up 4 feet narrower than the combined Wakota Bridge spans.

  • Click here for more about the Wakota Bridge construction project.

The new bridge will also include a bicycle path. This will improve the bicycle trail connections in the east metro area given that there are no other bicycle river crossings in that area.

The plan was to build the westbound span just north of the old bridge. All I-494 traffic would be moved to the new span, and then the old span would be imploded. Due to the large volume of barge traffic, the old bridge would have to be removed during the winter off season for navigation. Once the old bridge was gone, the eastbound span of the new bridge would be built.

The westbound span was built like a huge teeter-totter. Several piers were erected, and the bridge structure was built both directions from each pier. Construction crews had to be careful to build the same amount on both sides of a pier to keep the structure in balance. Once the bridge sections made connection with each other, the delicately balanced sections would join to create a very strong bridge. The west end was especially tricky to built. First, there are two interchanges very close to the bridge that had to remain open. Next, the I-494 highway was in the way and had to be moved south a dozen feet. And then there is an active railroad and a street that intersect directly under the bridge, both of which had to remain open. That section of the bridge was supported with steel falsework.

The bridge project was cruising right along, until MN-DOT noticed that the new bridge was starting to crack. In fact, it was in danger of collapsing under its own weight. It turns out that the bridge designer made a key mistake and underestimated the amount of steel rebar that needed to be installed in the bridge. This caused the edges of the bridge to droop a bit, and the extra stress was cracking the concrete. Construction was shifted into low gear until a solution was found. That solution was two fold. First, the design was modified so all remaining construction had enough rebar. Second, the already built section was retrofit with a number of steel cables under high tension. The cables pulled the sides of the bridges together. The weight of the sides pulled the cable tight, which caused the cable to push down on the stronger center back bone of the span. This transferred the weight off of the sides, stopped them from drooping, and reduced the stress on the concrete. Engineers say it will not impact the life of the bridge, but only time will tell for sure.

The net result of the project is that the new bridge was not ready for the winter of 2005/2006, so the old bridge could not be removed until the winter of 2006/2007. That pushed the completion of the second span back to the fall of 2008.

Note—yet another problem with the Wakota Bridge project. MN-DOT and Lunda Construction were unable to agree on a price for building the eastbound span over the Mississippi River. As a result, MN-DOT canceled the contract with Lunda, and has decided to rebid the bridge. Lunda will complete its current work and remove the old bridge. It may take as long as a year to rebid the bridge, pushing the completion out to 2009 or 2010.

Note—yet more problems. First, it appears that Lunda was correct in their estimate of $60-million to build the second span, and that Lunda will receive about $10-million in a breach of contract settlement. MN-DOT has about $40-million left to finish the project, which puts the second span in danger of being delayed years to find the additional funding. Second, MN-DOT is concerned about a cash flow problem related to the new I-35W bridge. The money is needed early in the project to pay the contractors as they go, but the federal money is not available until later in the project when the bridge is substantially complete. One solution is to raid the Wakota Bridge money to keep I-35W moving, and delay the Wakota Bridge until the funding can be replaced. As a result, one wonders if the second span will ever be built.

As of January 2008, MN-DOT has requested and opened bids for the second span. The low bidder is, not surprisingly, Lunda Construction of Black River Falls, WI. Their $60-million bid is within a few hundred thousand dollars of their earlier bid that resulted in them being fired from the project. Construction on the second span has started as of March, 2008.

Update—in November 2008, MN-DOT announced that they will recover $20-million from the bridge designer to compensate for the design errors. This $20-million will cover the $19.6-million cost to fix the westbound span, and leave a few dollars left to contribute towards the $30-million price increase to build the eastbound span. The increased cost of the westbound span is due partly to the new design being more complex and costly to build, and partly due to price increases during the construction delay.

The photo above is looking east towards the Wakota Bridge from the bluffs above Concord Avenue in Saint Paul Park. Newport is on the far side of the river. Interstate I-494 makes a sweeping S-curve as it enters from the right side of the photo, and exits to the left side of the photo on the far side of the river.


I-494 Bridge
These two photos are additional photos from high on the river bluffs on the west side of the Mississippi River. The photo above is a view of the bridge deck during rush hour the second day that the eastbound span was open. Some lanes are still blocked off due to construction. The photo below is a view of the south face of the bridge.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
The photo above is the bridge monument at the west end of the river crossing. There is no trail or pedestrian access to either bridge monument, so this photo was taken through the windshield of a moving vehicle. The photo below is looking northeast towards the south face of the river spans. The closer span is the newer eastbound structure.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
The photo above is looking north from the regional trail that runs along the levee on the west side of the Mississippi River. Two spans cross the river. In addition, two slightly smaller spans are located on the west side of the river, and one smaller span on the east side of the river. The photo below is a closer view of the main navigation channel as a tow boat passes under the Wakota Bridge pushing barges filled with sand and gravel upriver.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos are the first of a nine photo series showing a typical river crossing heading westbound across the older of the two bridge spans. These photos were taken on July 1, 2010, the date that the new eastbound span opened. The photo above is descending the river bluffs on the east side of the river. We are approaching the ramps for the US-10 and US-61 interchange. The photo below is approaching the bridge over the US-10 and US-61 freeway.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos continue our westbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. The photo above is the roadway between the US-10 and US-61 overpass and the east end of the Wakota Bridge. The photo below is entering the east end of the bridge. The bridge sidewalk is located on the upriver right side of this span.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos continue our westbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. The photo above is about one-third of the way across the bridge, which is above the river navigation channel. The photo below is about two-thirds of the way across the bridge, which is above the west bank of the Mississippi River.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos continue our westbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. The photo above is approaching the west end of the bridge. The photo below is a curve to the left just after exiting the west end of the bridge.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
The photos above is the last of a nine photo set showing a typical westbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. In this photo, we are approaching the overpass over Hardman Avenue. This gives a good view of the lane configuration prior to the eastbound span opening. The eastbound traffic use the 3 lanes that are to the left of the temporary K-block divider. The shoulders were used to allow room for six lanes of through traffic.

The photo below is the first of a seven photo set showing a typical eastbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. These photos were taken on the afternoon of July 1, 2010, the day that the eastbound span was opened to traffic. Highway I-494 makes a sweeping S-curve as it crosses the Mississippi River.


I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos continue our eastbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. The photo above is our journey along the the old pavement that was put in place before the new Wakota Bridge was built. The photo below is the transition to new pavement that leads to the eastbound bridge span.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos continue our eastbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. The photo above is entering the west end of the eastbound bridge span. The photo below is a view from about one-third of the way across the bridge. At this point in the construction, the ramp to Maxwell Avenue is closed. The exit only section of the US-10 and US-61 interchange is covered because the shoulder of the highway is being used as a through lane until all five lanes of the bridge span are open to traffic.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos are the final two of a seven photo set showing a typical eastbound crossing of the Wakota Bridge. The photo above is a view from two-thirds of the way across the bridge. The photo below is exiting the east end of the eastbound bridge span.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos are the first of a six photo set showing scenes from walking the westbound bridge span in February, 2010. All traffic is using the westbound span due to the eastbound span not being completed at that time. The photo above is looking east down the length of the sidewalk on the upriver north side of the Wakota Bridge. The photo above is looking east into the three lanes of westbound traffic. The yellow machine is a form traveler that supports the moving concrete forms that were used to build the bridges. Only one form traveler remains at work at this late stage in the construction project.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos continue our journey on the bridge sidewalk. The photo above is looking southwest across the traffic lanes on the bridge. Both eastbound and westbound traffic are using this span at this time. The photo below is one of the observation bump-outs on the north side of the bridge. Note the cool retro style lamps above the walkway.

I-494 Bridge
I-494 Bridge
These two photos are the final two of a six photo set from February, 2010. The photo above is looking east along the north face of the Wakota Bridge. While everything about this photo looks icy cold, it actually was an unseasonably warm day. The river is not frozen, and there was significant snow melt in the days leading up to this adventure. The photo below is another view of the upriver side of the bridge as seen from the trail connector that runs between the riverfront trail and the trail that crosses the bridge.

I-494 Bridge

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2012, all rights reserved.
For further information, contact: john@johnweeks.com