Lift bridge rehab begins after closure this week

After the new bridge over the St. Croix opens, the Stillwater Lift Bridge will be restored to its 1931 appearance and converted to a bike and pedestrian bridge. (Image courtesy of MnDOT)

Construction of the new bridge over the St. Croix River will soon be complete, but work on the Stillwater Lift Bridge will be just beginning.

After the new St. Croix Crossing bridge opens this week between St. Joseph, Wis., and Oak Park Heights, the historic lift bridge will close for renovations. It’s scheduled to reopen in June 2019 as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that will complete a roughly 5-mile loop trail in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

During an open house at Stillwater City Hall last week, the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation gave the public a look at what to expect.

With the exception of the lift bridge itself, the loop trail is scheduled to be complete in 2018. When finished, the trail will cross both the historic lift bridge and the new bridge, and will connect the two in a loop that runs on both sides of the river. Parts of the trail are already complete and may be used by the public.

Rehabilitating the lift bridge itself will take longer, because much of the work can’t begin until it closes to vehicle traffic.

Planned work includes repairing steel connections and concrete railings, restoring mechanical and electrical components, relocating gate arms that block access when the bridge is being raised, adding safety features for the visually impaired, and reconstructing the concourse leading up to the bridge on the Minnesota side.

“It’s a machine that was built in 1931, so it does need rehabilitation,” said Todd Clarkowski of MnDOT.

Crews will also paint the lift bridge its original green color and add street lamps on the concourse and bridge that look the like originals from 1931.

“We wanted to make it look like it did in 1931,” Clarkowski said.

When complete, the bridge will have bike lanes down the center of the bridge, with pedestrian walkways on either side. The existing sidewalk on the south of the bridge will also be maintained for pedestrians.

One of the challenges of restoring and maintaining the lift bridge is the fact that, due to its age, many of the parts must be made to order.

“They just don’t make those parts anymore,” Clarkowski said.

Kraemer North America is already building some of the components that will be needed. Kraemer is the same company that made the parts when the lift bridge needed repairs in 2005, Clarkowski said.

Among the components in need of replacement are the “trunnion shaft sheaves.” They’re the 1931 equivalent of bearings, and wrap around the large wheels (known as trunnions) at the top of the tower, allowing the trunnions to turn. Clarkowski said the sheaves currently on the trunnions are the originals.

Another challenge facing the project is how to keep the river open to navigation while the lift mechanism is restored. Clarkowski expects this will be accomplished by temporarily removing one of the spans of the lift bridge next summer and floating it out of the way. A similar approach was used when the bridge needed repairs in 2005.

In conjunction with the change in the lift bridge’s function, its lift schedule is expected to change as well. The U.S. Coast Guard, which has jurisdiction over the lift bridge’s schedule, is gathering public comments on changes to the lift schedule when it reopens.

According to Peter Sambor U.S. Coast Guard, the bridge’s current operation schedule is designed to minimize adverse traffic through Stillwater. Once the bridge is closed to vehicle traffic, that will no longer be a problem.

“For all intents and purposes, it will increase the number of openings,” Sambor said.

However, the Coast Guard wants to strike a balance that increases the number of openings but doesn’t overtax the bridge. The Coast Guard is currently collecting informal comments but plans to enter a formal comment process in the future, Sambor said.

Although the Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the lift schedule, the bridge will be owned and maintained by MnDOT.

The money for operation and will come from the interest earned on a $7.5 million endowment funded by the two states, Clarkowski said.

The restoration of the lift bridge and the creation of loop trail are part of the mitigation plan developed by a stakeholders group as part of the agreement that let to the new St. Croix Crossing bridge.

Clarkowski said the loop trail has generated excitement in the city and the biking community.

“There’s definitely interest in the trails,” he said.

Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota executive director Dorian Grilley, who attended the July 20 open house on the lift bridge project, agreed. He believes people will come to Stillwater specifically for the trail.

“I think you can expect a lot of people to use it,” Grilley said.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]

  • Peter Breyfogle

    I’m looking forward to the loop. It should be beautiful and fun to do.