New bridge project on a fast track

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is putting plans to reconstruct the I-35W Bridge on a fast track.

MnDOT issued a request for qualifications from companies interested in rebuilding the bridge. Companies are required to submit their qualifications by Aug. 8, and Minneapolis Public Works Assistant Director Heidi Hamilton said a short list of companies would be chosen by the end of that day. MnDOT’s website said three companies will be selected to submit proposals for the project work. Those are the only companies that will be allowed to submit bids for the project.

The project will be awarded to a “design-build” contractor rather than a traditional “design-bid-build” contractor, Hamilton said while giving a bridge update during a meeting of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee. A design-build contractor is responsible for both the design and construction of a project, which typically reduces the time it takes to complete the project. With the design-bid-build process, separate agencies usually design and build the project and the two phases don’t overlap. Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward), who chairs the committee, said using a “design-build” process gives the contractor a lot more leeway.

“With design-build, it’s more like giving contractors an idea of what you want in the end result without telling them how you want to get there,” Colvin Roy said, noting that she’s “very nervous” about using that type of process for the bridge reconstruction.

Along with other members of the committee, Colvin Roy emphasized that the city needs to ensure the bridge is built with as much thought as speed.

“Travelers now want that link back as soon as possible, but we really need to build it right rather than build it fast,” Colvin Roy said.
Conversations are happening among officials to talk about incorporating other transportation projects such as the Central Corridor light-rail line into the bridge reconstruction, Hamilton said.

“We really need to think about how this bridge fits into the regional transit system,” Colvin Roy said.

The city’s Public Works Department has set up two main teams to work on bridge issues. The first team will work on immediate issues such as traffic management, short-term transportation planning that could alleviate congestion, and maintaining communication with MnDOT. The second team will work on planning for a new bridge.

Public Works officials are also looking into whether some currently planned capital projects should be delayed during the bridge reconstruction. Public Works staff members are also working with partners including MnDOT, Metro Transit, the University of Minnesota, Hennepin County, St. Paul and Ramsey County to continue evaluating transportation options.

Officials are encouraging any motorist who notices traffic glitches or particular transportation problems to call 311.

Colvin Roy requested that work on previously planned bike trails for areas of the city such as Northeast Minneapolis that already have funding be sped up to serve as one more way to ease traffic congestion.