The announcement came after years of debate and delay: a new interstate bridge will be built to be used in tandem with the current river crossing. For this area of Minnesota and Wisconsin, this was one of the biggest decisions of 2012.
Construction is planned for 2015, a year later than originally scheduled. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) studied rehabilitation of the existing bridge for a longer period of time than originally expected, which delayed the project. The new two-lane bridge will be constructed just upstream of the current bridge. Once the work is completed, all traffic will be routed to the new structure while the current bridge is rehabilitated. Following that rehabilitation work, motorists traveling to Winona from Wisconsin will be routed to the new structure, while those crossing into Wisconsin will use the current bridge.
For many, news of a new bridge came with a sense of relief, since the plan will avoid long-term bridge closure and many miles of detours for those who cross the river. However, for some who live or work in the path of the new structure, the plan is mired in uncertainty. Mn/DOT has preliminary design plans, but exactly how the intersection at Fourth and Winona streets will be affected has not been decided. What is clear is that the intersection will be widened and some homes and businesses will be taken by eminent domain.
The new bridge is expected to be a girder-style design, which features a bridge deck built on top of girders placed on bridge abutments, similar to the I-90 bridge over the Mississippi River near La Crosse.
Many headlines in 2012 carried a four-letter-word that has sparked debate across the region: sand.
The hard, round sand is in demand by the oil and natural gas industries, used for an extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing. The sand is found closer to the surface in Southeastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, which makes it more economically feasible to mine.
In response to the swift increase in new sand mines across the region, many local governments imposed moratoriums on new mines and related facilities during 2012. The city of Winona enacted an emergency moratorium that is expected to expire in March, while Winona County had a shorter hold on the industry, which ended in May 2012. County leaders are currently overseeing environmental review processes for several proposed mines.
Buffalo County approved several new mines and then also enacted a moratorium. While the temporary hold was in effect, that county considered several controversial mines and a processing facility were considered, since permitting requests were submitted prior to the moratorium. One of those requests—from Glacier Sands, LLC—resulted in a swell of opposition. The processing and transportation facility was proposed for land near the Cochrane-Fountain City School, and county leaders rejected the proposal after many contentious meetings.
Another processing and transportation facility has been proposed on land just outside the city of St. Charles. The Minnesota Proppant facility would receive sand via an underground pipeline from a site six miles south of the development. It would process the sand, then transport it out of the area on rail cars. The facility, if realized, could be the largest frac sand processing and transportation plant in the country. It is still in the environmental review phase.