Wisconsin officials want Biden to fund replacement bridge

Jun. 30—SUPERIOR — The Blatnik Bridge served as the backdrop as local, state and federal officials called on President Joe Biden to provide funding for the bridge's replacement.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson joined local officials to talk about the need to replace the bridge, which first opened between Duluth and Superior in 1961.

"Just last year, we welcomed President Biden to highlight how the Blatnik Bridge could benefit from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law," Baldwin said. "While we had a little snowier backdrop during that visit, our familiar view today is a stark reminder that the Blatnik Bridge remains in dire condition and needs to be replaced."

Baldwin said the Blatnik Bridge was built when John F. Kennedy was president, the Berlin Wall was constructed, and the first human traveled in space.

"A lot has changed since then including the integrity of this bridge," Baldwin said. "This bridge is far too important to the local economy and people's lives to ignore it for any longer."

In addition to serving about 33,000 vehicles daily, the bridge carries nearly 265,000 trucks that transport about $4 billion in goods every year, Baldwin said.

For the last 60 years, Thompson said the bridge has served as a critical link between Minnesota and Wisconsin but serves economies beyond both states. He said the bridge serves national and international freight movement affecting 42 states and nine provinces in Canada.

"Our departments of transportation have a responsibility to provide a safe and efficient network and the Blatnik ... is overdue for an upgrade," Thompson said. "Minnesota and Wisconsin have both secured funding at the state level for our local match so we're ready if we can get this federal money so we don't have to rely on regular maintenance to keep this bridge moving."

The Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee agreed

with the urgency of the project, approving $47.2 million in funding and $352.8 million in bonding for a total of $400 million commitment, Evers said.

The overall project is estimated to cost $1.8 billion.

"By investing in infrastructure, we're not only investing in safer roads," Evers said. "We're also investing in a more resilient economy, jobs, businesses and our local communities."

Planning for the bridge construction project is ongoing. In December, the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of transportation presented two alignments for the bridge and one interchange that are being considered for the new bridge. MnDOT is the lead agency on the project.

Right now, the final evaluation of the last couple of candidates is underway as part of the environmental assessment for the project, said Marc Bowker, WisDOT project manager. He said that will be presented to the public for comment in the fall.

When funding becomes available, the project will move into the final design phase, Bowker said. The goal is to begin construction in 2027, but work could begin as early as 2026 if funding is available.

Baldwin called on Biden to provide $1 billion in federal funding to replace the bridge.

"The bridge is a vital connection in the Great Lakes helping to make sure 'Made in Wisconsin' products get to market and supporting thousands of jobs," Baldwin said. "And that's why I was so proud to vote for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and bring federal funding home to Wisconsin to repair our roads and bridges like the Blatnik. Replacing this bridge will help ensure that millions of products get to market efficiently and millions of travelers can get to their destinations safely."