The I-90 bridge over the Mississippi River is a heavily used commuter route for travelers in the La Crosse/La Crescent region. The existing bridge was completed in 1967; making an important regional connection between Winona, Minnesota and La Crosse, Wisconsin. A decade later, the longest Interstate Highway (I-90) would be completed from coast to coast, providing important commercial and defense infrastructure for the entire nation. The original opening of the interstate bridge was recognized with an Official Dedication Program (PDF 2.7 MB) featuring local bands, dance teams, and each State’s dairy princess and governor.
The bridge is a 2,497-foot steel girder bridge carrying four lanes of traffic with narrow shoulders. It is in need of replacement due to both the narrow shoulders and its structural age. The I-90 Bridge spans the Mississippi River between Dresbach, Minnesota and La Crosse, Wisconsin. Built in 1967, it is a 2,490-foot-long, 4-lane bridge. The existing, fracture-critical bridge has narrow shoulders that cause lane closures when vehicles are stranded or during routine maintenance operations. Current interchange geometry creates difficult and unsafe traffic movements for commuter traffic.
Bicycles and pedestrians
The Mississippi River Trail is a bicycle and pedestrian pathway that follows the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. The MRT runs right through the heart of the Dresbach Bridge and Interchange Project. Currently, the trail weaves its way through the interchange configuration along the narrow shoulders, crossing high-speed traffic at challenging angles. Bicycle and pedestrian routes (PDF 1.8 MB).
The primary purpose of the project is to provide a new structurally sound I-90 river crossing bridge that meets current structural and geometric standards on an important regional river crossing, and to provide a reconstructed interchange that improves traffic safety, capacity and access on and between Highway 61/14 and I-90. The project intends to address the following issues:
- Bridge structural deficiencies – has no structural back-up; portions are beyond useful life; fatigue cracking has occurred
- Narrow bridge shoulders – do not meet state/federal standards; no emergency vehicle bypassing or stalled vehicle storage
- Roadway operational problems – morning preference for I-90 eastbound from Highway 61 northbound; afternoon queues westbound I-90 to southbound Hwy 61
- Roadway capacity needs – queues back up on bridge impacting capacity
- Traffic safety concerns – I-90 curve has higher crash rate; northbound Hwy 61 to eastbound I-90 has pattern of crashes
- Riverfront access – no access to riverfront from southbound Hwy 61; no access to riverfront from eastbound I-90
- I-90 as regional river crossing – nearest crossings are five miles south and 24 miles north
In addition to the highway issues being addressed, the project faces many competing interests of varying sensitivity, including lock and dam access, Traveler Information Center/Rest Area access, river user access, US Fish and Wildlife Refuge, environmentally sensitive bluffs, railroad corridor, proximity to the airport and river navigation channel, and the Mississippi River Bicycle Trail.
To safely accommodate all of the desired movements, the interchange will look drastically different when completed. However, great effort was made to ensure that the resulting bridge and interchange will fit into the beautiful surroundings created by the bluff and river environment. A Visual Quality Team met during the design phase of the project to guide decisions toward a natural fit into the project setting. Stone patterns and colors were selected for the structural elements matching the surrounding limestone rocks in the bluffs. The visual quality design intends to draw attention to the landscape by minimizing the Visual impact of the interchange features.
Final elements of this design goal include:
- Concrete color finish to complement surrounding limestone bluffs
- Bridge pier shapes honoring the shape of local trees
- Bridge type that does not compete with views
- Open bridge rail allowing river views
- Subtle accent lighting preserving the natural lighting environment