Updated: St. Croix Crossing bridge completion delayed

With slower-than-expected progress on the St. Croix Crossing project this summer, it became clear the bridge would not open as planned in fall of 2016. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)
With slower-than-expected progress on the St. Croix Crossing project this summer, it became clear the bridge would not open as planned in fall of 2016. (Gazette staff photo by Jonathan Young)

The Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation announced Sept. 4 that the completion date for the bridge portion of the St. Croix Crossing project will be delayed until 2017.

“This is a very complex engineering project,” MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle said in a written statement.  “This is only the second major bridge of its type built in the U.S., and the methods of construction are taking longer than anticipated.”

St. Croix Crossing project director Michael Beer noted this is also the first bridge in North America being constructed using precast segments pieced together on site to form the bridge deck.

The bridge was set to open to traffic in the fall of 2016. MnDOT, WisDOT and the contractor (Lunda/Ames Joint Venture) are working together on a new schedule.

“We will announce the new completion date before the end of this year,” Zelle said. “While we know that residents of this region want the bridge to be open for traffic as soon as possible, our highest priority is to complete the project safely and to the high standards we’ve set for it.”

“We’re pleased on this bridge that there’s been no major design or construction flaws,” Beer said. “We’re pleased that the project has met our expectations for safety and quality, and we want to ensure that the project continues to meet expectations for safety and quality.”

However, the construction delays might raise the cost of the project.

“There is that potential,” Beer said. “We haven’t done that analysis yet. We’ve been focused on managing the project to try and meet quality and the schedule.”

The project’s total cost had been estimated at $580-646 million, according to the project website. Discussions about cost impacts due to delays aren’t expected to take place until a new schedule is set.

Beer said the contract with Lunda/Ames provides for a $20,000 a day penalty if there are “no excusable delays.” Whether the expected delays are “excusable” under the contract has yet to be determined.

Brent Wilber, a representative of Lunda/Ames, said the problem is in part due to confined spaces and complex work related to the precast segments.

“They’re small areas to work,” Wilber said. “They’re large piers, but with the access platforms that are up there, the form work systems, there’s only a certain number of bodies you can get up there … Putting more people up there doesn’t answer the question, because there’s not room for them.”

But the delay constructing the bridge deck using precast segments wasn’t the first snag in the timeline.

“There were other notable delays,” Beer said. “Last spring there was a delay in procuring the form work … used to make the large precast segments. That had an impact on the schedule at that time, and that’s part of what put the project in a critical position for this construction season.”

Another delay was the early onset of cold weather last year, Beer said, and other issues such as the breakdown of specialty equipment that takes time to replace. However, he said a steel-worker walk-off earlier this year was not a significant problem. He said it had a short-term impact for a week or two but hasn’t affected the overall progress.

According to MnDOT, the roadwork on Highway 36 on the Minnesota side is complete and that the Highway 64 roadwork on the Wisconsin side of the project is underway and on schedule. No new traffic impacts are anticipated with the change of the completion date of the project.

However, completion of the loop trail to be constructed as part of the project will be delayed, because portions of it depend on completion of the new bridge. The loop trail project includes conversion of the Stillwater Lift Bridge to a pedestrian and bicycle bridge. The trail will cross the Lift Bridge and the new bridge, forming a loop between Minnesota an Wisconsin. Work on the Minnesota segment of the loop trail has already begun, and the Minnesota section is expected to be finished as scheduled.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]