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Oakland place bridge opening today

A few city and county officials couldn’t pass up the opportunity Thursday morning to be some of the first drivers to cross the new Oakland Place Southeast bridge over Dobbins Creek, south of East Side Lake.

“I want to go back and forth on it a few times, just for the heck of it,” Mayor Tom Stiehm joked.

“That’s just fine,” Mower County Public Works Director Mike Hanson said, the two drawing laughs from gathered city and county leaders.

The Oakland Place bridge opens today.

They’re surely not the only ones excited the new bridge opened to traffic Thursday, as it’s one of the most — if not the highest — traveled bridges in Mower County, with a daily traffic volume of around 10,000 vehicles.

“We’re proud of it,” Hanson said. “It’s a great addition to the transportation system in Austin.”

Mower County and city of Austin officials opened the $2.6 million Oakland Place Southeast bridge Thursday with a ribbon-cutting shortly before it opened to traffic. It had been closed since last October.

The opening caps a project that’s been discussed for many years, as the former structure was built in 1932 and in need of replacement.

“It was in horrible shape; you all remember what that bridge looked like,” Hanson said, later noting some cement had fallen from the bottom and sides. 

But good things often come to those who wait. The county eventually received a $1.85 million grant from the state for the project, which lessened the local share of the project and pleased County commissioners like Tony Bennett.

“Anytime you can work with the engineer and the city and state in accessing grant funds, it’s always a great way to do things,” said Bennett, who represents the 4th District where the bridge is located. 

The project includes a 52-foot bridge, a 10-foot sidewalk on the north side, a 6-foot sidewalk on the south side, new roadway approaches, decorative lighting, improvements at the Oakland-14th Street intersection — which are still being finished — and retaining walls between the bridge and the East Side Lake Dam.

“It’s just a great addition,” Hanson said of the bridge.

Some final work is still being done on the Oakland project. Side street construction in conjunction to the project will start now.

About a block-long portion of 14th Street Southeast and Oakland Place East will be closed for some accompanying work, which should last a few weeks.

The sidewalk/bike trail on the north side of the bridge is also still being finished. 

The city covered the $130,000 retaining walls, $250,000 approach pavements and $45,000 for a total of $425,000. The county covered $100,000 to widen the bridge to make room for the 10-foot wide bike/walking path and $30,000 for additional lights.

The bridge came in right around the budget estimates and close to its completion date, though the the Minnesota Department of Transportation project to replace the 11th Drive Northeast bridge over Interstate 90 was delayed a week, waiting for the Oakland project to finish.

Demolition of the existing 11th Drive Northeast bridge at exit 179 begins Friday night.

“That’ll be more inconvenience, but that’ll be a great project too,” Hanson said of the Minnesota Department of Transportation project. “That’ll be wider, will have a nice sidewalk.”

Overall, Hanson said the construction season is going well, and most projects are moving ahead at a good pace.

“We’re excited because we’ve got two other bridges in Mower County they’re working on right now,” Hanson said.

Crews poured concrete on County Road 29 over Woodson Creek, and crews are working on another bridge on County Road 57. Hanson praised his staff for their work.

“My crew has done a wonderful job out here,” Hanson said. “I’d like to thank them, too.”