Ceremony for new bridge skipped

According to Mn/DOT, groudbreaking festivities were never definitely scheduled to occur.

Liz Riggs

After weeks of talk about a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Interstate 35W bridge, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has decided to skip the festivities altogether.

According to Mn/DOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht, a groundbreaking was never formally scheduled, instead, just “tentatively” discussed.

However, plans for a groundbreaking event were mentioned publicly by both Mn/DOT and construction firm Flatiron on at least two separate occasions.

As recently as Monday morning, local news outlets reported the ceremony was still on.

Had the festivities taken place, it would have likely happened yesterday, Gutknecht said.

“The project started the day after it was signed,” Gutknecht said. “So it did not seem inappropriate to not have a groundbreaking.”

The decision to skip a ceremony altogether was reached sometime last week, Mn/DOT officials said.

While some projects require publicity in order to attract public interest, this isn’t one of those instances, Gutknecht said.

“When you think about the bridge project, it’s received a great deal of attention,” he said. “We don’t need to draw attention to this.”

But after two-and-a-half months of very public proceedings, including a series of open houses, press conferences and informational meetings, Mn/DOT’s decision to forgo an official groundbreaking could be perceived as a strange turn of events.

Gutknecht dismissed claims the decision not to hold a groundbreaking was a response to the controversy generated earlier this month, when Mn/DOT announced the overall cost estimate for replacing the I-35W bridge increased by $143 million.

Still, it’s clear money woes are a serious issue, given that on Monday an eight-lawmaker panel approved less than one-third of what Mn/DOT requested in extra funding.

Chuck Tombarge, a senior account executive with Minneapolis-based public relations firm Himle-Horner, which represents the entire design team working on the new I-35W bridge construction, said the decision not to have a groundbreaking was made independently of the construction firms involved with the project.

“That was a Mn/DOT decision,” he said.

Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she was not aware the idea for a groundbreaking had even been tossed around before now.

Nonetheless, she said Mn/DOT’s decision was the right one to make.

Kahn pointed to public meetings and information sessions about the new bridge design, saying “those types of activities are much more important than a ceremonial groundbreaking.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.