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City approves box girder bridge (08/21/2013)
By Chris Rogers

Photo by Chris Rogers
     Dee Cipov brought a visual aid to make her point during a public hearing before the Winona City Council approved Mn/DOT's proposed Winona bridge. "If we put up a bride that is going to cover a good share" of the current bridge, this is what visitors will see, Cipov said as she held up a homemade model of the box girder bridge.
The Winona City Council approved the Winona Bridge project proposed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT). Despite assertions by the council and by another local media outlet that in its approval the council withheld consent for the proposed box girder bridge type, Mn/DOT says it has all the municipal consent it needs to build. A crowd filled the council chambers for Monday's meeting where, after listening to public comment largely opposed to the project, the council voted unanimously to grant consent for the project.

Even though the council voted to grant consent, but not to consent to the box girder bridge design, it appears that their lack of design approval does not hold any practical meaning. "Can we give consent for you to go ahead, but we'll leave the bridge structure out of it until you get further?" Council member George Borzyskowski asked Mn/DOT Project Engineer Terry Ward. Ward replied that the city could do that.

However, in an email to the Winona Post, Ward confirmed that the council gave full municipal consent on Monday and that Mn/DOT will not be required to ask for any further consent on the bridge type. In multiple meetings, Ward has stated that Mn/DOT only needs two things to build: municipal consent and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) from the federal government. That means it is one down, one to go for Mn/DOT.

With city approval in hand, Mn/DOT is still on schedule for starting construction in 2015, possibly 2014. The city both avoided being the cause of any delay in the project and waived its most legally forceful opportunity for influencing the project. Within weeks, Mn/DOT will take the first step in purchasing or seizing properties in the path of the new bridge: making offers.

Now, the federal environmental assessment, which Mn/DOT hopes will result in a FONSI, will begin soon. Even though the city has no more to say about the bridge design, the public still has a chance to provide input to the federal environmental review process during the assessment phase.

Winona semi truck operator Ted Hazelton expressed concerns about the safety of traffic coming and going from Winona. The new bridge will have a five percent grade, a half-percent steeper than the existing one and the steepest grade allowed on bicycle and pedestrian bridges. "To have a steeper incline and a light at the bottom, with heavy loads and Minnesota winters, how safe is that?" he asked. Trucks loaded with fall harvest may not be able to stop for the stoplight at the bridge landing, he said.

In the opposite direction, the mid-bridge merge that will be required for the motorists in the right lane of the old bridge heading towards Wisconsin will "create one heck of a traffic jam, a bottleneck." He added, "I'm sure most people don't have the chance to ride in a big rig. I'm sure I could arrange that so you can see how hard it is to merge in a semi."

Why is the government spending over $50 million dollars of taxpayers' money to repair a bridge that may face the wrecking ball in 30 years, asked Winonan Thomas Mauszycki during the public hearing. He continued that once the mismatching new bridge is built, "the beauty of the old bridge will be diminished." Forget the repairing the old bridge, "let's build a cable stay bridge that will enhance the beauty of our Mississippi Valley," he said.

"This is not a done deal yet. You have the decision to make something really critical for our community maybe for a hundred years into the future," said Leone Mauszycki, who also had reservations about preserving the historic bridge at any cost. Like the loss of other good old friends, "I would mourn the loss of this bridge, but I've had to move on," she said. She praised the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS) and Mayor and WCHS Director Mark Peterson for the decision not to try to make a new addition tp the Winona County Historical Center blend into the abutting historic structure, but rather "move into the future with a new structure of this century, something we can be proud of." Let us do the same with this new bridge, she said.

"The business community supports updating the crossing," said Winona Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Dennis Meyer during the public hearing. "We encourage you to vote for consent," he added. Mississippi Welders owner Donald Peterson joined Meyer in calling for a "yes" vote. Peterson addressed one of the most contentious issues: Mn/DOT's recommendation of a box girder bridge style over cable or arch types. The box girder is "the most cost effective bridge," he said. "It's the best value for the dollar."

An arch bridge would cost $14 million more, according to Mn/DOT estimates, a nearly 10 percent increase in project costs. Mn/DOT officials have stated that they do not have the funds for such a bridge.

"Now we're going to put a box bridge next to that beautiful bridge?" David Wurtz, of Goodview, asked. He said that every time he drives by the Winona bridge he marvels at how magnificent it is and gets upset about plans for the "ugly, no good" box girder bridge. "Previous administrations have failed" to safeguard Winona's aesthetic resources, he said. "Let's not fail again."

Winona has become "an arts and culture destination," said Winonan Dee Cipov. "We need to keep in mind that we need to have an attractive entrance to the city of Winona," she added. "If this concrete box girder is going to be an attractive entrance, then council and Mn/DOT need to" heed the advice of the Mn/DOT's recently formed, citizen-based Visual Quality Committee, urged Cipov.

Do not be hasty, Jack Stoltman, of Winona, cautioned the council. "I'm just afraid that we're going to make a decision that we're going to be sorry for in the future. Like other communities up and down the river, we shouldn't settle for less. We have such a beautiful city; we should keep going with that."

"I came to the area from the Twin Cities because I wanted to live in an area that is beautiful," said Winona teacher and Fountain City resident Jeff Morgan. "My concern is that the plans for the box girder bridge are functional, but not aesthetic." He expressed fears that the bridge would soon be covered in graffiti and said, "I would suggest the arch bridge from Hastings. It's beautiful; it's interesting." 


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