Winona bridge to reopen Saturdayby Melanie Sommer, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Winona bridge over the Mississippi River will reopen to most traffic on Saturday morning.
It was closed abruptly 10 days ago when inspectors found rust and corrosion in gusset plates at several locations of the bridge.
The closure severed the only link between Minnesota and Wisconsin for miles up and down the river, leading to drastically longer driving times for commuters and worrying business owners.
MnDOT said today the Highway 43 bridge, which connects Minnesota and Wisconsin, will re-open to automobiles, pickups, vans, SUVs and emergency vehicles. Trucks, pedestrians and bicyclists will still be prohibited from crossing the bridge.
"We felt it was necessary to open the Highway 43 bridge to some level of service as soon as possible, to reduce some of the inconvenience to Minnesota and Wisconsin commuters," said MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel. "MnDOT is confident that the bridge is safe to open to car traffic until repairs can be made to the gusset plates."
The bridge won't be replaced any sooner than scheduled. Instead, repair work on 32 gusset plates will begin in a few weeks. MnDOT says it will repair the most critical gusset plates first, in order to allow truck traffic back onto the bridge as soon as possible.
After the bridge was closed, daily service by two ferries was arranged to help people cross the river instead of driving well over an hour on alternate routes.
A smaller, 20-passenger ferry will operate through June 20 to serve pedestrians and bicyclists, MnDOT said.
MnDOT and the city of Winona are looking into transit options to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists after that time.
Repair work on the gusset plates will begin by mid-summer, and should be completed by late summer or early fall.
The bridge at Winona was the third Minnesota span to be closed after inspectors found problems in gusset plates, which help connect the steel beams of a bridge's structure.
Gusset plates that were too thin have been called a critical factor in last year's Minneapolis bridge collapse that killed 13 people.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)