The Richard I. Bong Bridge connecting Duluth and Superior, Wis., is the longest bridge in Minnesota. At 1.5 miles in length, it rises 120 feet above the St. Louis River, where the wind blows hard and cold during the winter and the sidewalks are usually covered with frozen piles of snow. In spite of this, there are hardy, ambitious people who regularly bike and walk across the bridge. "Up until now bikers have had to ride on the shoulders during the winter," said Denis Sauve, owner of Twin Ports Cyclery located near the bridge. "Either that, or quit riding for the winter."
"We have always wanted to provide safe, accessible sidewalks on the bridge, as well as do something to prevent concrete deterioration caused by this melting snow," said Pat Huston, District 1 maintenance operations engineer. "But, until recently, there wasn't an adequate machine available that was small-enough to fit on the sidewalks and powerful-enough to blow the heavy snow."
After months of research, Huston and his team purchased a machine that offers tremendous versatility for maintenance needs. Called a "Trackless Machine", it will clear the Bong Bridge sidewalks for pedestrians and help prolong the life of the bridge by reducing the salt-water runoff that creates spalling issues under the sidewalk a win-win solution, according to Huston.
The Trackless Machine will be used primarily on the Bong Bridge, but also will be used on sidewalks near MnDOT buildings, on Hwy 53 near high-volume business areas and on Duluth Metro Area bike paths. "Funding for equipment is tight — we need equipment that we can do different things with," said Huston. "The biggest advantage of this machine is its versatility."
Specifically, the machine has:
- A front mower deck that will be used to mow Interstate 35 medians and back slopes.
- A broom attachment that will be used for sweeping salt, sand, etc., and cleaning out potholes prior to patching.
- A sander attachment that can be used in conjunction with the snow blower.
The district plans to order a milling attachment in the future. Patches made by milling and filling with hot-mix asphalt will be more durable than "throw and go" patches and support MnDOT's durable patching effort. A boom mower also will be ordered to mow over and around guardrails.
"This is fantastic news," said Sauve after learning about plans to begin clearing the sidewalks. "This will make many bikers' commutes a lot easier and safer."
Taken from: MnDOT Newsline