During a press event at the Earth Rider Brewery in Superior, WI, President Joe Biden highlighted a $1 billion grant award to the Blatnik Bridge project, which will replace the original structure built in 1961 with a new design that will not only handle higher volumes of motor vehicle and freight traffic but more safely accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians as well.
[Above photo by Adam Schultz for the White House]
For more than 60 years, the Blatnik Bridge has served as a vital link between Duluth and Superior via Interstate 535 and US 53.
Jointly owned and managed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Blatnik Bridge is an important freight and commercial connection between the Duluth-Superior Twin Ports, with more than 33,000 vehicles traversing the structure per day, and more than 265,000 trucks transporting nearly $4 billion in goods crossing it every year.
The total cost for rebuilding the Blatnik Bridge is estimated to be $1.8 billion, with Wisconsin and Minnesota each committing $400 million toward the project in 2023. With the $1 billion federal grant now in hand, design work for the project, which will determine specifications and shape the final project, is anticipated to begin in 2024. Once a final design is selected, construction could begin as early as 2025.
[Editor’s note: The Blatnik Bridge grant is one of several included in the $4.9 billion worth of funding recently issued through two major discretionary grant programs overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Click here for more information about the projects overseen by state department of transportations that also received funds during this round of USDOT grant awards.]
“As Tim [Nelson, the owner of the Earth Rider Brewery] just said, the bridge is critical to his business, his workers, his customers, to the entire local economy,” President Biden said during his remarks. “This bridge is also critical to the largest port on the Great Lakes, serving critical industries like forestry, agriculture, clean energy, supporting so many communities. I mean, it really is consequential.”
However, the president added that the bridge is also “in a badly corroded condition. It’s unsafe for trucks to carry oversize, overweight loads, causing drivers lengthy detours, increasing costs and delays. It’s outdated in design. Tight curves have led to higher-than-average car accident rates, traffic congestion.”
President Biden said the $1 billion USDOT grant will help build a new bridge that will increase capacity for large trucks and oversized loads; includes wider shoulders; offers smoother on and off ramps; and includes a shared path for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“And I want to credit your governors — and I mean this sincerely — and your state legislatures for coming up with the matching money to invest in this bridge. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have gotten done,” the president noted.
“This investment is going to make a huge difference: less traffic; fewer car accidents; faster commutes to your jobs and schools; quicker response times from fire trucks and first responders when every minute counts. Goods are going to get shipped quicker, and commerce will flow more freely,” he said.
“This investment will make it possible for Minnesota and Wisconsin to rebuild a critical connection between our states that will foster regional economic growth, strengthen our national supply chains, and improve the safety and reliability of our transportation network,” said Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D) in a separate statement. “This is a project that will serve hundreds of communities between our states.”
“This is a transformational opportunity for Wisconsin and Minnesota to bring a critical piece of our infrastructure into the 21st century,” added Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers (D). “A new Blatnik Bridge means safer vehicle travel and better support for the billions of dollars in freight moving across the bridge each year.”
“Our commitment to improving safety and the long-term sustainability of our bridges is unwavering,” said Craig Thompson, secretary of the Wisconsin DOT and president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “This was a team effort – from local communities and elected officials in both states – and we will act with urgency to deliver this important project.”
“Replacing this bridge is a top priority and [we] are grateful to our federal partners for the funds needed to get this project done,” noted Minnesota DOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger. “We look forward to working with Wisconsin DOT to build the modern and reliable Blatnik Bridge that the Twin Ports deserve.”