Transportation officials aim to improve road safety, fluidity by replacing a bridge connecting Duluth and Superior
New recommendations to connect the Blatnik Bridge replacement to US Highway 53 could make the trip between Duluth and Superior safer for the more than 30,000 drivers who cross the bridge each day.
Currently, the bridge connects to a city street, Hammond Avenue, in Superior with an off-ramp to Highway 53. The new recommendations from transportation officials are due in part to safety concerns as traffic passes from 55 mph on the bridge to 30 mph on city streets. , making the area more accident-prone.
Transportation officials recommend four options for connecting the bridge to U.S. Highway 53 in Superior, according to Marc Bowker, northwest region planning engineer and project manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Bowker said these alternatives have the best potential to address security issues and improve traffic flow.
“It will be a free flow both on deck and down and off the deck,” Bowker said. “It would just feel like you’re on the same freeway that turns around the corner.”
Senior Mayor Jim Paine supports connecting the bridge to Highway 53.
“The current main landing stage on Hammond Avenue is just very dangerous, and it really breaks up a neighborhood and creates real barriers for people,” Paine said.
Transportation officials say a direct connection to Interstate 53 would weed out drivers who used N. 5th Street to bypass outbound traffic. Instead, transportation officials would create an interchange that would provide access to Hammond Avenue.
“The exits from this bridge to the landing stage will allow the bridge to continue to serve traffic in our business districts,” Paine said.
Bowker also noted that a level crossing on Hammond Avenue has been known to back traffic onto the bridge as trains pass.
“That was another concern that created some of the potential for accidents up there,” Bowker said.
All of the proposed alternatives would involve moving about 10 or fewer homes and businesses, according to Bowker. Paine said he wants to make sure homeowners and business owners are included in the process.
“We want to make sure that we work closely with anyone facing relocation. We want it to be voluntary and we want it to be an opportunity for people,” Paine said. “We don’t want to evict people from the property they want to stay in.”
Transportation officials would like to see a new bridge built closely along its existing route, as it would not restrict access to boat ramps or the water’s edge. They also want to build cycle and pedestrian paths along the bridge.
The replacement of the 61-year-old bridge is motivated by its deterioration. The bridge has been subject to load restrictions due to age, rust and corrosion of the bridge’s main trusses. Still, transportation officials say regular inspections and maintenance keep the bridge safe. This includes $6.3 million of ongoing work through September to extend its life.
President Joe Biden visited Superior in March to tout the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure act that funds the repair and replacement of roads and bridges across the country. Transportation officials in Wisconsin and Minnesota hope federal funding will pay for most of the estimated $1.8 billion project. The two states will share the cost of the replacement, with construction expected to begin in 2028.
The Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation are currently accepting public comment on proposed alternatives for the Blatnik Bridge project. People can submit comments online on the project website.
Both states hope to recommend their preferred alternative for public comment by January next year.