ST. PAUL, Minn.—Two lanes of traffic on the John Blatnik Bridge, which carries Interstate 535 between Duluth and Superior, Wis., were closed this afternoon after recent calculations and field inspections discovered that gusset plates in eight locations on the bridge did not meet the bridge’s load requirement.
Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said travel will be limited to one lane in each direction on the four-lane structure until angle irons can be installed to strengthen the gusset plates. He added there may be short periods of time when both lanes in one direction will need to be closed for repair work.
The repairs, and a final inspection, are expected to be completed by mid-June.
“I want to reassure the public that the bridge is safe or it would have been closed,” Sorel said. “We are taking a conservative action based on sound engineering practices.”
In January, the National Transportation Safety Board issued an alert regarding gusset plate design asking states to recalculate the loads when major work was planned for the bridge. Mn/DOT started immediately in January checking the gusset plates on all 25 steel truss state bridges whether or not work was planned.
Mn/DOT decided to limit traffic on the bridge today due to an analysis which revealed an increase in weight loads from a new deck and heavier railings installed when the bridge was reconstructed from 1992 until 1994.
“We are acting as quickly as we can to make repairs that will ensure the bridge remains safe,” Sorel said.
The Blatnik Bridge opened to traffic in 1961. An average of 29,500 vehicles use the bridge daily.
Motorists will still have full access to the Richard Bong Memorial Bridge, which also connects Duluth and Superior.
Mn/DOT officials are working with their counterparts at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to minimize the effects of the lane closures.
For more information about the Blatnik Bridge, visit Mn/DOT’s Web site: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/.
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