New Baudette/Rainy River International Bridge Creates Safer Crossing at US-Canada Border
International Coordination: Minnesota and Ontario Officials Work Together to Replace the Baudette/Rainy River International Bridge
While the news is filled with stories about the U.S.-Mexico border, the border between the U.S. and Canada is nearly three times as long. And there are plenty of ways to cross it. One border crossing is a bridge that spans the Rainy River. It connects Baudette, Minnesota, which is in the north central part of the state, with Rainy River, Ontario, Canada. A project is underway to replace the Baudette/Rainy River International Bridge.
The area of the Rainy River, where the project is taking place, is popular with fishermen, many of whom are hoping to catch Walleye fish that are common in the area. So the area has a number of resorts and lots of boat traffic.
Old and New
Originally constructed in 1959, the Baudette/Rainy River International Bridge is reaching the end of its useful life primarily due to corrosion that has caused it to deteriorate. It’s considered structurally deficient. Currently, it can support normal weight loads, but is not permitted to carry some overweight loads or over-dimensional loads.
“Because there’s not a lot of redundancy in the construction of the bridge, there’s more risk in case something fails,” says Paul Konickson, an Assistant District Engineer of Operations for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Konickson is part of the project team and his role includes contract administration and ensuring the work is completed according to the contract.
The current bridge, which had restrictions implemented over time regarding loads, has 12 spans and a steel grate deck. It’s 1,285 feet long with one lane in each direction and remains in use while the new bridge is being built.
Drivers won’t have to figure out a new route once the new bridge is built since it will be only 4 to 5 feet over from the current bridge. Like the current bridge, the new one will be one lane in each direction. Konickson notes there was no need to expand the number of lanes since capacity is not an issue. The average daily traffic count for the bridge is 1,200 vehicles with most of the traffic made up of tourists, people who work on one side or the other, or logging trucks.
The new bridge will be slightly longer than the current one – 1,350 feet – with a concrete deck, steel bridge barrier, and five spans. It will also have trails and sidewalk in one direction and be slightly wider than the current bridge to meet new standards in terms of pedestrian and vehicle width. The current bridge’s height and width is an issue as there are occasions where logging trucks hit it.
Because the two bridges are so close to each other, there is only a minimal amount of roadwork necessary. “We’re changing the alignment ever so slightly,” says Konickson.
The bridge, which provides a connection between United States and Canadian customs, will have a large aesthetic aluminum arch. The arch will have an American flag and Canadian flag to announce to riders which country they are entering or exiting.
Every construction project has to deal with red tape and various agencies for approval. This is multiplied for the Baudette/Rainy River International Bridge project. “Because there are two countries involved, there’s a good deal of coordination,” says Konickson. “We’re working with the customs offices of both countries and have weekly project meetings that include custom agencies.” There are also two sets of laws that the team needs to keep in mind.
Another challenge is the short season. Beyond the cold weather (the water freezes up by Thanksgiving), there are time limits of when the team can work in the water. Minnesota law permits work in the water on June 15 while Canadian laws says July 15.
Finally, the Minnesota section of the bridge is considered an historic bridge which means the team had to consider federal laws which make replacing the bridge more challenging.
Konickson anticipates the removal of the existing bridge to be a challenge since the two are so close together. “The team will have to take down the trusses and the piers piece by piece to ensure it’s done safely and wont damage the new bridge.”
Because of the time constraints related to working in the water, the current bridge has long spans with the longest up to 300 feet. “This way there’s less pier construction and less work in the water,” says Konickson. “Less piers mean lower costs and less time and ultimately a more efficient design.”
It also means there’s heavier deeper girders. The shafts, which are 8 feet in diameter, are being drilled 80 to 115 feet deep depending on how close they are to the shore.
Schedule and Cost
The contract bid price for the project was just over $39 million. The bridge costs are being split equally between Minnesota and Ontario, while each area is paying for the work done on its side of the river. The Minnesota portion of the project is being funded by the state.
The project is running slightly over budget and over time due to drilling issues. “The drilled shafts ran into lots of rocks and obstructions,” says Konickson. “It was one of the challenges the contractor was looking at prior to starting the work since it’s a great unknown.”
When the new bridge is complete, drivers will have a safer, smoother ride. There will be an increase in width, greater loads will be permitted, clearance will be added and a safer walkway for pedestrians and shoulders for bicyclists. Crossing the border will be easier.