Dignitaries tout bipartisan cooperation at groundbreaking for I-90 bridge project

Published 5:10 pm Thursday, April 25, 2024

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AUSTIN — In September of 2022, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith were in Austin touting the securement of $25 million in federal dollars for the bridge replacement project currently underway in Austin.

Thursday morning, the two senators, who were instrumental in securing that money, along with Gov. Tim Walz and other dignitaries, were back in Austin celebrating the start of the project, which will run across the next three years.

“Austin is unique with these bridges,” Walz said to the gathering of people prior to an official groundbreaking. “This is about building community and connecting community. Whether it’s the ethanol plant in Lyle or getting over the Cedar River, our folks going back and forth for commerce is critically important.”

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Thursday’s ceremony was held next to Interstate 90 just west of the Fourth Street NW bridge. Between now and 2026, a total of six sites will be replaced at a total estimated cost of just under $50 million. Work has already begun on the first of these sites at Oakland Avenue with the bridge being torn down over the weekend of April 19-21.

The bridge replacements mark one of the largest construction projects in the state of Minnesota, according to Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger, and has been in the works for the last few years.

“We have a four-year transportation program and we start planning and sculpting projects even before those four years in the program,” she said. “This project has probably at least been in the planning for four years or more.”

The interstate itself goes back to the 1950s when it was first built in Minnesota. The six sites in Austin are labeled as being at the end of their useful design life.

However, rather than do them separately, MnDOT opted to do them all as one large project, something Klobuchar said Thursday worked to the project’s advantage when trying to get funding.

“I love an economy of scale,” she said. “We were able to pitch this as one great big project so they could all get done instead of separate ones.”

Just over half of the project is federally funded through Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) funding, which is part of the larger Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

That money is combined with $19 million in state funding and another million or so generated locally.

“It feels like it was just yesterday that we were here to announce the federal funding that is supporting this project,” Smith said. “It’s great to be back here today to celebrate this ground breaking for all of these new bridges along Interstate 90.”

“Thanks to the $25 million, the grant we were able to deliver, we are finally able to make these crucial investments to improve how traffic flows, improve safety, reduce traffic snarls and build a transportation system in this community that is truly up to the task and demands of the 21st century here in Austin,” she added.

Throughout Thursday’s program, a spirit of bipartisan work and cooperation was touted, including by District 23B Rep. Patricia Mueller, who helped secure $14.5 million in bonding dollars for Austin’s Wastewater Treatment Plant project that is currently underway.

“This is truly an effort that is cooperation between all areas of government,” Mueller said. “It’s exactly how it should be done.”

This was reflected by Daubenberger who noted all those at the groundbreaking.

“Your participation and lineup of speakers here today really signifies the importance of this project to the community of Austin as well as  those who travel the great state of Minnesota,” she said. “We all have a role in this project’s success.”

The Oakland Avenue West bridge is slated to be completed this August with the Fourth Street NW (County Road 45) bridge expected to start around that same time and go into next year. The rest of the bridges will be staggered into 2026.

For more on the Interstate 90 bridge project, visit: https://www.dot.state.mn.us/d6/projects/i90-austin-bridge-replacements/