Residents seek answers on bridge project

By ERIK SANDIN – Stillwater Gazette

St. Croix Valley residents with lots of questions about the planned St. Croix River bridge filled the Boutwells Landing Town Hall Wednesday afternoon looking for answers from state Department of Transportation officials.

At one of what will be many public meetings about the St. Croix Crossing project, MnDOT officials sought to explain the project to a room full of Valley residents. Residents at the meeting peppered MnDOT bridge project manager Jon Chiglo with questions not only about the bridge, but approach roads and intersection work.

In opening remarks, Chiglo told the Boutwells audience that bridge construction will start and finish one year earlier that first estimated.

"Bridge construction will start, we anticipate, in the fall of 2013," he said. "Next summer, I expect work to be going on along the approach roads and frontage roads."

Before actual construction begins, however, Chiglo said crews would perform load tests at the site this summer. He added that those tests are "very important to the project."

Chiglo said the river crossing project is really three separate projects – the bridge over the river and the bridge approaches on the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the St. Croix.

MnDOT is currently seeking project design proposals from companies, but Chiglo said the company that wins the design contract must design the approaches and bridge using environmental and aesthetic requirements currently in place.

"No other design concepts will be considered. This is the design," he said.

Because MnDOT will use the design-build method, Chiglo said Valley residents can expect to see work on approach roads in 2013.

"A year from now, there is a very good chance there will be construction on (Minnesota) 36," he said. "We’re looking at a two- to three-year project."

Chiglo’s comment about Minnesota 36 work prompted one Oak Park Heights resident to complain about the state’s plans for the Oakgreen Avenue intersection at MN 36.

"I strongly object to the Oakgreen Avenue, Highway 36 design," the man said. "Our neighborhood association has met with MnDOT to get the intersection redesigned."

In response, Chiglo reminded residents that Oak Park Heights consented to the project more than 15 years ago.

"Oak Park Heights gave municipal consent to this project in 1995," he said. "That’s one of the confusing things out there, that Oak Park Heights must give us their municipal consent. That’s not right."

When asked by a woman about utility relocation costs in Oak Park Heights and the cost to residents, Chiglo said state officials are looking at what he called "avoidable and unavoidable" costs.

"That’s something we’ll be working closely with Oak Park Heights. MnDOT expects that (utility relocation) cost to be less than $20 million," he said.

Another man got laughs from residents when he strongly suggested Wisconsin pay more of the estimated $580 million to $650 million cost of the project.

"The citizens of Wisconsin are the biggest beneficiaries and should pay more of the cost," he said.

"For this bridge, it (cost) is 50-50," Chiglo replied. "MnDOT is covering 98 percent of the cost, if not more, on this side."

During his presentation, Chiglo also reminded his audience that MnDOT begins repair work on the Lift Bridge, closing the span from September to December.

Although Chiglo said MnDOT’s Lift Bridge repairs will affect local traffic this fall, he added that the agency will do what it can to limit impacts from the St. Croix bridge project on area residents.

"We’re going to work hard to minimize the impacts," he said. He added that construction hours will probably be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with some occasional night work and no work on Sundays.

But Chiglo’s comments did little to please one woman who lives in the Sunnyside complex.

"I live in Sunnyside and we have years of disruption ahead," she lamented.