Freeman: Exciting times ahead for the Upper Mississippi Waterway

The Upper Mississippi Waterway Association (UMWA)’s annual meeting was held Thursday, Sept. 22 in St. Paul, Minn. The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association was represented during the meeting, as I also serve as UMWA’s president.

The association is a stakeholder group that advocates promoting the mighty Mississippi as a functioning river. Even though river transport is vital to the movement of Ag products and inputs, it only occupies about 2% of the rivers surface; the association is also hearing more groups expressing a need for more barges. Since its inception in 1932, UMWA’s focus has shifted from elation with the mastering—the most efficient mode of transporting bulk goods— to operating ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to the general public. Through raising awareness of the Mississippi, the public has since rediscovered the beauty and peacefulness of this majestic river, making it imperative that UMWA stand their ground and show there is room for all citizens to utilize this resource.   

The keynote speaker at the meeting was Todd Clarkowski, MnDOT’s St. Croix Crossing Project Coordinator. Clarkowski discussed the St. Croix Crossing, a $646 million bridge project involving both Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Crossing will replace the Stillwater Lift Bridge, which will be repurposed for pedestrian use.

It took an act of Congress to satisfy the River Conservation Act and pave the way for the project’s completion. Regulations on the project were complicated—130 permits and 67 site plans were required to facilitate implementation of these permits. Accordingly, there has been no legal action against the project.

The bridge is the second major extradosed-type design in the United State. An extradosed bridge features 30 percent of the support through cables above and 70 percent support below on boxed segments; and segments where cast in foundry yards offsite were transported by barge for placement. There are 650 segments to the bridge and 338 segments for approach roads. Footings go through  25’ water 2’ sand, 67’ muck 22’ soft sandstone, and  40’ into hard sandstone.

The mitigation cost to this project cost $51 million. Portions of the cost were used to utilize top -own construction to mitigate environment impact on Pier 13 on the Wisconsin side of the river. For quality control, surveyors measured to one thousandth of a foot to ensure all parts were still on square. Additionally, sensors and monitors are utilized throughout.

The St. Croix Crossing is scheduled to open in fall 2017.

Earlier in the day, WERDA 2017 passed the U.S. Senate, and is expected to be taken up in the House in a lame-duck session. Notably, there were no provisions for lock fees on private public partnership projects. The industry has been against fees; we already pushed at increasing our fuel taxes almost 50 percent in the last WERDA.

Overall, it was a fruitful meeting with robust discussion. It was clear to all who participated that exciting times are ahead for UMWA.

Paul Freeman is a Minnesota Soybean Growers Association director and farms near Starbuck, Minn. He can be reached at mpaulfrankf@hotmail.com.