Minnesota, Wisconsin get $1 billion in federal funding for aging Blatnik Bridge

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DULUTH — The aging Blatnik Bridge, the main connector between Duluth and Superior that is due for a rebuild, has received $1 billion in federal funding, Gov. Tim Walz said Monday afternoon.

"Big news for Minnesota," Walz said on X, formerly known as Twitter. "This investment will foster regional economic growth, strengthen our national supply chains, and improve the safety and reliability of our transportation network."

President Joe Biden, who visited the bridge in March 2022 to highlight the $1 trillion infrastructure law he had signed months earlier, is returning to the same city on Thursday. He plans to discuss the connection between his Bidenomics and Investing in America agenda and rebuilding infrastructure, according to a news release from the White House.

Walz will be there, too.

"I'm telling my team it would take wild horses to keep me away," Walz said during a press conference on Monday afternoon.

Transportation officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin have recommended that the bridge be rebuilt along a similar alignment, with roundabout interchanges and a multiuse path along the side. Transportation departments on both side of the bridge have committed an equal amount of funding to the project — $400 million each.

The Blatnik Bridge, built in 1961, carries 33,000 vehicles per day — traffic moving along Interstate 535 and Hwy. 53. About 265,000 trucks carrying $2.6 billion in domestic goods and $1.07 billion in international goods travel the route every year. The four-lane, 1.5 mile route is one of two major spans linking the port cities. The Richard I. Bong Memorial is slightly less traveled, but would serve as the major connector during the years-long construction project.

"It's a very, very exciting development for Minnesota and Wisconsin, not just the northern parts of the state — just for commerce," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has been pushing for funding for years. "We need that bridge to work."

As it has aged, the Blatnik has required maintenance on its truss work. Officials have cited its structure, vehicle mobility and vehicle safety as reasons for the new bridge.

Walz said he first heard about the need to replace the bridge in 2006 from the late U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, who was an expert on transportation issues. The governor was excited about the news of the money, calling the bridge a massive artery and its replacement transformational. He has been involved in grant applications and met with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in October.

Walz said he expects construction to start later this year on what he said is the single biggest investment to roads and bridges in Minnesota.

Staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this story.