Bridge builder

Gazette file photo
Jon Chiglo, MnDOT’s manager on the St. Croix River Crossing project, talks about the project’s timetable at a Washington County Board of Commissioners meeting earlier this month.

Jon Chiglo ready to meet challenge of building new St. Croix River bridge

Jon Chiglo is no rookie when it comes to leading major projects for the state Department of Transportation.

Chiglo managed the U.S. 52 project in Rochester that cost $232 million. He led the $240 million U.S. Highway 212 project in the west metro. And he was manager of the Interstate 35W bridge reconstruction project.

So it was no surprise earlier this year when MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel named Chiglo manager of the St. Croix River Crossing bridge project.

“Once you work on these projects it gets in your blood,” said the personable Chiglo recently.

And as transportation projects go, the new St. Croix bridge has attracted a lot of attention. The need for a new span across the river replacing the 80-year-old Lift Bridge has been discussed for decades. Progress has come in fits and starts, with lawsuits filed against the project; National Parks Service rulings that first approved the work, then rejected the same idea in October 2010, and finally, congressional action overriding the NPS rejection and allowing bridge construction.

Add in an estimated cost of $580 to $675 million for all planning, design, testing and construction related to the new St. Croix River bridge and its approaches in Minnesota and Wisconsin and it’s understandable why Chiglo has become a regular presence in the St. Croix Valley.

Chiglo and MnDOT staff involved in the St. Croix bridge project have held numerous “town hall” meetings explaining the project to Valley residents and businesses. Earlier this month, he made the first of what will be regular appearances before the Washington County Board of Commissioners to update the group on the project.

Chiglo and his staff will be more visible next year when MnDOT opens a bridge construction office in Oak Park Heights prior to the start of work on the Minnesota approach to the bridge on Minnesota Highways 36 and 95. The local office will house the staffs of both MnDOT and contractors working on the bridge.

Being in Oak Park Heights during the four-year long construction is important to Chiglo. It allows area residents and business owners to voice concerns about work directly to MnDOT staff. And it enables engineers to quickly address problems that might arise during the work.

“We find it creates a lot of efficient decision making,” he said.

The first surprise in the project for engineers were the results of $3.5 million load tests done in the riverbed this summer, Chiglo said.

“We got very positive results. You always encounter something you might not expect. We’re very happy with the results,” he said.

Test results showed engineers could reduce the number of bridge piers to five from six and reduce the size and number of drilled shafts for those piers, Chiglo said. The load tests help reduce risk to the project’s bidders and reduce project costs, he adds.

Chiglo said MnDOT expects to receive responses from contractors this week to the agency’s request for qualifications. MnDOT staff will then develop a short list of companies that will receive requests for proposals that lays out the project contract, including criteria for bridge design, incentives and penalties.

MnDOT will then score the technical proposals in late January by dividing the bid price by technical score to determine the successful bidder.

The company that wins the contract for the Minnesota approach work starts in May and is expected to be finished in 2014, Chiglo said. And one of the first goals of that project is finishing Minnesota 36 frontage road work in 2013, he added.

“We are really trying to encourage the contractor to start those frontage roads in year one and finish in year one. We’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Chiglo said the frontage road goal was determined after MnDOT staff listened to concerns of area residents and business owners.

“We said that if we could get the frontage road done first, we would,” he said. “It was clear that’s what business owners wanted.”

One big challenge Chiglo said MnDOT faces is convincing residents that businesses along the Minnesota 36 frontage roads will remain open during the work.

“The approach work will have its challenges,” he said.

In fact, Chiglo compares the St. Croix bridge approach work on Minnesota 36 to the U.S. 52 project in Rochester.

“When you look at the whole project, it reminds me of the Highway 52 project in Rochester that I managed. It’s very similar to that project in terms of the approach work,” he said.

But the Minnesota approach project is just the start. Chiglo said actual bridge work is expected to start in fall 2013 with complex logisitics.

Chiglo said segmental concrete box girders will be used to construct the bridge with cable stays adding to the “challenge” of building the span.

The 600 42-foot wide, 10-foot long and 18-foot tall concrete box girder segments that will span the river from shoreline-to-shoreline will be made in a casting yard selected by the contractor from sites identified by MnDOT, Chiglo said.

Casting will be done five to six days per week year-round and it will take about one year to cast all the segments, Chiglo said. And the 150-ton castings must be stored on a site with stable ground and not susceptible to frost.

How the castings get to the river shore and on barges to the construction site is up to the contractor, Chiglo said.

Actual bridge construction is not the only complex part of the project, Chiglo said. There will be 12 to 18 separate contracts let for the work, covering not only approach and bridge construction, but right-of-way acquisition, environmental mitigation and the conversion of the Lift Bridge to a pedestrian and bicycle route after the new bridge opens.

All those factors make it important for the project to stay on schedule, Chiglo said.

“Yes, we’re hitting all of our dates. We’ll adjust on the fly and we’ll be starting construction next spring. If we maintain this schedule, people will be pretty happy with the cost,” he said.

Given both the complexity and public interest in the project, Chiglo is confident that he and his team will get the bridge done on time and at budget.

“These are the things that I live to solve. I’ve got a good team. This is a challenge,” he said.