Blatnik Bridge Looking to Be Replaced, Making Travel Safer

July 14, 2022

The John A. Blatnik Bridge that connects Duluth and Superior is up to be replaced, thanks to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

The $1.8 billion project, originally thought to just be refurbished, is now seeming like it will get a full replacement beginning in 2028. The project is looking to take five to six years, said Marc Bowker, Eau Claire-based project manager for WisDOT. 

“The actual rehabilitation we have ruled out,” Bowker said. “It doesn’t become financially feasible to rehabilitate the entire structure.”

Transportation officials are now recommending that the new bridge exits onto U.S. Highway 53 South, which currently exits out to Hammond Avenue in Superior. In doing so, the travel will be safer. Officials have said that some existing businesses and residences in the city’s north side will need to be relocated.

“I certainly support it landing on Highway 53,” said Jim Paine, Mayor of Superior. “That makes so much more sense. Landing directly onto Hammond is dangerous. It would be a real step forward to land that thing correctly.”

“Where northbound and southbound Highway 53 cross each other, we have a signalized intersection and the morning commute can have significant queues,” Bowker said. “Those queues create crashes.”

Bridge traffic currently lands on Hammond Avenue, making the exit dangerous, reducing speed from 55 MPH to 30 MPH. Ground freight and other traffic passing through the city is required to twist through an interchange to go south on Highway 53.

A new bridge will be built on either side of the existing Blatnik Bridge alignment. Bowker mentioned that shipping channels will be open during construction.

Originally constructed in 1958 and opened to traffic in 1961, the structure has a rust problem that can only be repaired. Officials have been planning for the bridge’s future since 2016. The bridge is currently reduced to single-lane traffic in both directions as it undergoes $6.3 million in regularly scheduled maintenance and repair.

Bowker noted of a new bridge: “The most significant change would be the touchdown on the Wisconsin side.”

WisDOT has recommended tying into Highway 53 for a variety of reasons, including a reduction in crashes and better freight mobility. “The current configuration with really tight loops coming off the bridge makes it a challenge for freight,” Bowker noted.

Twin Ports Interchange reconstruction work ongoing in Duluth is also being done to eliminate traffic hazards and accommodate freight traffic into and out of the port. Because of weight restrictions on Blatnik Bridge, oversize loads between Duluth and Superior are currently required to use the Bong Bridge.

A rebuilt Blatnik, along with completion of the Twin Ports Interchange in 2024, will make it so all freight traffic can flow freely over either bridge.

A new bridge would feature spurs landing on Hammond Avenue and into the neighborhood that would eliminate the need for travelers to find their own workarounds.

Bowker used to work out of the WisDOT office in Superior, noting that the question of realigning Blatnik Bridge with Highway 53 has been an ongoing question for 30 years.

Bowker also said public comment could sway things in other directions.

"If we get a large outcry about how, 'We like this configuration,' we may need to consider it further," Bowker said.

Residents have until July 21 to express their opinions on alternatives presented for a bridge replacement.


Source: WisDOT/MnDOT

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