MDOT looks back at 3 years of bridge project

Jordan Beck | Daily Press The U.S. 2 and 41 bridge over the Escanaba River is pictured recently. The Michigan Department of Transportation’s work on the bridge reached a state of near-completion with the opening of all lanes on the bridge to traffic.

WELLS — The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT)’s work on the U.S. 2 and 41 bridge over the Escanaba River reached a state of near-completion recently with the opening of all lanes on the bridge to traffic. MDOT Communications Representative for the Superior Region Dan Weingarten spoke about the history of the project and the improvements made to the bridge.

Construction work on the Escanaba River bridge — along with work on the E&LS Railroad bridge that was also included in the project — began in April 2017. The project was in the planning stages for years before this.

“It was an aging structure, and there were also geometric issues with the roadway that the bridge project allowed us to remedy,” Weingarten said of the project’s primary goals.

The old Escanaba River bridge was built in 1929 and widened in 1956.

Weingarten said the old bridge had a “broken-back curve” — the bridge itself was straight, but the road curved on both sides of the bridge. The roadway also dipped down on either side of the bridge.

In contrast, the new bridge has a continuous curve and the roadway and bridge have both been raised.

A number of safety improvements were made as part of the bridge project. Weingarten said these included widening bridge lanes and shoulders, adding a separated non-motorized pathway and introducing a bridge deck warning system that will let drivers know when conditions that could result in ice formation on the bridge are present.

“That involves some sensors that’ll be monitoring the roadway,” he said in regards to the warning system.

Testing for the warning system is set to take place through July 12 and will not impact traffic. As of last week, Weingarten said this — along with landscaping — was the last work that needed to be done before the bridge project will technically be complete.

While bridge construction was taking place, the bridge had to be closed at times to allow for some work to be done. Weingarten said five full closures of the bridge took place in 2017 and 2018, and the bridge was closed for a total of 10 days.

When the bridge was closed, a detour route was used.

“There were some kinks early on … for the later closures, things went smoothly,” Weingarten said.

He thanked members of local law enforcement and the Michigan State Police for their help with traffic control during the closures.

Weather conditions have had significant effects on the bridge project.

“We ran into weather difficulties with this project from the very beginning,” Weingarten said.

In the spring of 2017, high water levels and strong currents on the Escanaba River delayed the start of bridge construction by about six weeks. High water levels also complicated bridge work in the spring of 2018.

These issues were taken into account by MDOT. Sandbags were utilized, and access roads had to be installed higher than was originally planned.

In the summer of 2018, another issue arose. That July, a labor dispute between the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association (MITA) and the Operating Engineers 324 union affected progress on road projects across the state — including work on the Escanaba River bridge.

“That delayed the delivery of beams for the (bridge’s) second span,” Weingarten said.

Concrete beams for the bridge were delivered in late August. MITA and the union reached a temporary agreement in September 2018. Weingarten said they have since reached a longer-term agreement.

The placement of the bridge’s second span began in September, and bridge work continued into the fall. Concrete was poured for the deck of the second span, but this did not take place until November.

“Due to worsening weather conditions, work on the project had to be suspended in late November 2018,” Weingarten said.

At the time work was suspended, the approaches to the bridge’s second span had not been paved.

MDOT had originally hoped to complete the bridge project in the fall of 2018. However, the delays pushed the project’s completion date into 2019.

Work done on the bridge this year included the paving of the approaches to the second span and the non-motorized pathway, the installation of bridge railings and the bridge deck warning system, slope restoration and landscaping.

Weingarten thanked local motorists for taking care while driving in the construction area for the bridge project.

“People understood that they needed to be cautious and drive slowly through the area,” he said.

He also said those involved with the bridge project are happy to see it almost finished.

“We think it’s going to be a safer and more pleasant driving experience,” Weingarten said.