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Superior businesses brace for billion-dollar Blatnik Bridge replacement

Executive director of the Development Association of Superior and Douglas County says assistance programs are in the works for impacted businesses

Blatnik Bridge
The Blatnik Bridge first opened in 1961. After 60 years, the bridge is deteriorating and nearing the end of its useful life. Around 33,000 drivers use the bridge each day to travel between the two cities. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

After two presidential visits, more than $1 billion dollars in promised federal funding and a current renovation that’s already affected anyone driving between Superior and Duluth, the Blatnik Bridge total replacement project is on track to begin in 2027.

That should be just enough time to get used to the current rehabilitation of the Interstate 35 and 535 interchange on the Duluth side before the new work begins. 

But all that road work affects more than just vehicles. On the Superior side in particular are numerous businesses directly in the line of traffic.

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Plans to minimize that disruption are a top concern for Jim Caesar, executive director of the Development Association of Superior and Douglas County. He spoke with WPR’s Robin Washington on “Morning Edition” about appeals to governmental officials to help.

This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Robin Washington: So how bad will it be? Will there be periods of no traffic at all, or a little? Or will it be rerouted?

Jim Caesar: It’s mostly going to be rerouted, but it’s still going to impact more than just those businesses that are close to the bridge. Several years ago, the bridge closed and it certainly did some damage to the businesses right there next to it.

Also, I think it will impact most businesses rather than just service-oriented businesses, and throughout the city and perhaps even beyond.

RW: We’ve got retail businesses like the Hammond Steakhouse, the Superior Inn and the Kwik Trip, but there are also heavy industries that have trucks that really need to come right off the bridge and go where they’re going to go. What does all that mean in terms of rerouting? I assume they’ll use the Bong Bridge.

JC: It’s going to be extremely difficult. We have been working with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation on some kind of assistance program for those businesses that are going to be impacted. I’m hoping there’ll be forgivable loans for businesses that maintain certain criteria such as employment levels. We’ll be meeting on July 12 with both the Minnesota and the Wisconsin departments of transportation.

RW: Will there be a total bridge closure? With bridge replacements around the country, sometimes you see one go up and the other one still there before they tear it down. 

JC: That’s not happening in this case. They will close the existing bridge completely. I’ll be honest, I don’t fully understand all the logic behind that.

RW: Are there some businesses that simply won’t be able to operate? I mentioned the Kwik Trip. It’s completely dependent on Hammond Avenue traffic, with the exception of some walk-in traffic for groceries.

JC: We’re not hearing from any businesses about actually closing, but there’s a lot of anxiety out there.

I think that is one of the reasons why they pushed it back to 2027. Initially, they were looking at starting the rebuild in the first quarter of 2026. But if a business had to come up with alternative operating plans by the first quarter of 2026, it would be a tough row to hoe.

RW: This was the topic in Superior Days in April. What was the reception in Madison?

JC: Everybody was favorable, but I think we made more progress on the agency side than on the legislative side, so we’ll keep plugging away. 

I think people will kind of put up with the hassle for the first year, but by the second year, the inconvenience gets real tiring and I’m worried people will say, “Hey, I’m not going over there. It’s too much of a hassle.” You know, there are some businesses that could actually be helped by this if it keeps people from going over to Duluth to shop.

RW: Well, in that case, let’s never build the bridge! And let’s tear down the Bong Bridge while we’re at it!

JC: No, no, no! We certainly like those people from Duluth coming over to Superior.

If you have an idea about something in northern Wisconsin you think we should talk about on Morning Edition,” send it to us at northern@wpr.org.