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Minnesota DOT Cleans Up Complicated Glenwood Intersection With Highway 29 Overpass

by: Larry Bernstein
Workers lift rebar into place for one the new piers on a section of the Highway 29 overpass in Glenwood, Minnesota.
Workers lift rebar into place for one the new piers on a section of the Highway 29 overpass in Glenwood, Minnesota.
Every motorist wants roads that will get them to their destination quickly and reliably. Sometimes, impediments exist leading to delays and uncertainty. In Glenwood, Minnesota – located in the western part of the state on Lake Minnewaska – the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and Pope County are partnering on the Highway 29 Overpass, which will provide multiple benefits, including more reliability for drivers.
Active Area Leads to Delays
Just north of the city of Glenwood, Highways 29 and 55 intersect each other. To complicate matters further, the intersection is skewed.

A few hundred feet from the intersection is a railroad crossing of the Canadian Pacific (CP). On a typical day, there are 16 plus railroad crossings. A traffic study found that the average delay during a train crossing is four to five minutes, though there have been delays of up to 11 minutes. The maximum observed amount of cars queuing was 14. Also, there is a switching yard half a mile east of the intersection. This adds to delays as trains slow down upon approaching the yard and have yet to pick up speed upon leaving the yard.

Adding to the impact of the delays is emergency vehicles regularly use the route to get to a hospital in the next town.

Three Steps to a Better Ride
MnDOT is taking a three-pronged approach to improving the route.

They are building an overpass at the junction of Highway 29 and Highway 55. The overpass will eliminate the “at grade” crossing with the CP Railway System. The overpass, which will raise the highway nearly 24 feet over the railroad, is a four-span bridge. The new bridge on Highway 29 will straddle the railroad and new highway alignment, thereby eliminating the intersection.

Highway 55 is being realigned to reduce the length of the bridge over the highway. The new alignment, approximately 2,500 feet of Highway 55, will move 300 feet north.

Two new roundabouts are being installed, one on Highway 29 and one on Highway 55. Currently, there are stop conditions in these areas. “We decided to install a roundabout to eliminate the left turns and keep traffic flowing,” says Lori Vanderhider, Project Manager for MnDOT, who worked on the project design. The second roundabout is mountable since oversized loads carrying wind turbines regularly use Highway 55. 

Construction Challenges
The beginning of the second construction season commenced during the second week of April. At this time, the area faced cold – even for Minnesota – temperatures and the team was working on excavating piers one and two.

“There was snow flying and the temperature was frigid,” says Dan Kuhn, a Resident Engineer for Construction for MnDOT, who is serving as the bridge engineer on the project. “Staying warm was a challenge.”

A second challenge turned into a boon in terms of time and money. During pile operation, MnDOT has a piling formula they use to determine bearing resistance. It’s based on a 12-inch piling. The team, however, was driving a 16-inch diameter. Because of this, there’s some subjectivity.

The team’s instruments indicated they were short on bearing resistance. A soil engineer was brought in to review the files. By using a pile dynamic analyzer, he found there was adequate bearing. Because of this discovery, the team was able to safely shorten the lengths of the piling. “The plans anticipated driving some piles as much as 65 feet, but some piles were able to be reduced to as little as 20 feet,” Kuhn says.

Another challenge that Kuhn anticipates is related to access. As part of the project, the City of Glenwood is putting in sanitary and water lines in the vicinity of the roundabout on Highway 29. The utilities require steel casings to get installed and maintaining access for local businesses during that time will be challenging.

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There are periodic issues with timing. These are caused by the occasional train outage while they are on the track. The team can’t work on pier two or three because of the proximity when there’s a train on the track. Delays have lasted up to two hours.

Successful Partnerships
Serving as the general contractor on the project is RR Schroeder Construction, Inc. Schroeder is a local contractor and they have been in business since 1962. They regularly partner with MnDOT in District 4 and typically serve as the prime contractor on one to two projects a year. “They are less than a mile from the site, which is helpful as they can mobilize additional resources to the site in a timely manner,” Kuhn says.

CP has also been a partner on this project. Both Kuhn and Vanderhider note that CP has been good to work with. “We have regular communication with them, and we talk with the contracted flagger every morning,” Kuhn says, “They let us know how many trains are coming through.”

The project began in July 2021 and is expected to be complete on time in October. The team projected the cost of the project would be $10.5 million. Schroeder, however, came in with a bid of $9.3 million. The excess bond dollars are available if the project faces overruns or unforeseen costs. If the project remains on budget, the money will go back into the coffers.

The City of Glenwood kicked in $200,000 for the sanitary lines. The bulk of the funds – $10.3 million – is coming from the state. Representative Paul Anderson advocated for the project and the funding gained approval in the 2018 legislative session.

“For some time, the locals have been interested in seeing this project happen,” Vanderhider says.

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Glenwood is a bedroom community for Alexandra, a nearby town. The project makes the community more attractive to live and work in.

The Alexandra hospital is a large employer in the area. “Employees have to be able to get to the hospital in a certain amount of time in an emergency situations and they couldn’t do that because of this issue so they couldn’t live in the town,” Vanderhider says.

With the completion of the Highway 29 overpass drivers will experience safer intersections, improved mobility, eliminated railroad crossways, and reduced emergency response times. It’s what every motorist wants.

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