News / World

New bridge may spark tourism in northeast Minnesota

VIRGINIA, Minn. — Officials in northeastern Minnesota believe a new highway bridge can spark economic development and help tourism by providing an entryway into the city of Virginia.

The 1,100-foot long U.S. Highway 53 bridge on the Iron Range sits more than 200 feet above the Rouchleau Pit, an old mine pit, Minnesota Public Radio reported .

"It really is an engineering marvel," said Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr.

Jim Makowsky, the general manager of two area hotels, said he thinks the bridge will be a tourist attraction. A popular bike trail will also cross the bridge, he said.

"You'll be able to bike over the bridge; you'll be able to drive your snowmobile across the bridge," he said. "Where else in the country can you do that?"

The bridge was built after mining company Cliffs Natural Resources told the state seven years ago that the highway had to be moved so the company could access iron ore underneath the road. The company, which is now called Cleveland Cliffs, wanted to expand its United Taconite mine in order to get to ore underneath the highway.

The mining company had acquired the mineral rights to the ore from U.S. Steel. The state had signed a private easement agreement with U.S. Steel in 1960, which allowed the state to expand Highway 53 to four lanes but let U.S. Steel have mineral rights to the iron ore underneath the road.

The agreement said U.S. Steel would cover the cost to move the highway if the ore was needed before 1987. The cost of moving the highway after 1987 fell to the state.

The project to create the 3.2 mile reroute cost about $235 million. The federal government provided $30 million, and the state covered the rest of the cost.

"The important thing is this is a permanent relocation," said Pat Huston, an engineer and project manager for the state Department of Transportation. "The only way it will move is if someday it becomes economical for a mine operation to move it. They can buy the minerals, and they would have to pay to move the highway as well."

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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