ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Lafayette Bridge in St. Paul has seen better days. Minnesota Department of Transportation engineers will tell you the current bridge is not only safe, but a new bridge is being built right beside it.
"We are building two new bridges. One will carry southbound traffic and one will carry northbound traffic," Min DOT engineer Jennie Read explained.
You may remember the Lafayette, which carries Highway 52 traffic in and out of downtown St. Paul, had a lower sufficiency rating than the 35W Bridge when it collapsed. Min DOT has spent countless hours, annually, inspecting the structure to make sure it remains safe. They'll shut down the southbound lanes for another inspection on Saturday.
Engineers also say the Lafayette is nearing the end of its service life.
"There are over 80,000 vehicles a day that use the existing bridge and when we were doing the design work and looking at the forecast. We're expecting that will grow in 20 years to a little more than 90,000," Read said.
There are some drivers who say they won't travel across the span.
"If it was stop and go traffic, I would not cross it. We were cruising down the river in the boat and we looked up, and it doesn't look good," Leah Hawkins of South St. Paul said.
The beauty of Min DOT's more than $130 million construction project is the bridge will keep traffic flowing in both directions through the life of the project.
The new northbound bridge will be completed in 2013; then they'll knock the old bridge down and build the southbound span, as all traffic is rerouted to the newly-constructed northbound bridge. The whole project will be complete by 2014 or 2015.
"I'm happy. I'm very happy," Hawkins concluded.