New Highway 53 bridge on track for 2017 opening

The Highway 53 bridge as seen from a drone camera on Feb. 19, 2017. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Construction continues on the new Highways 53 and 135 bridges between Eveleth and Virginia. Drone cameras continue to document the process, giving us all a clear picture of the progress.

When complete, the Highway 53 bridge will become the tallest bridge in Minnesota. The entire project is expected to cost $240 million. Thus, this easily represents the most expensive infrastructure project on the Mesabi Iron Range in a lifetime.

Why? Well, as has been explained many times, valuable iron ore is located under the current Highway 53 corridor. By special arrangement more than 50 years ago, the landowners, mineral fee holders and affected mining company — in this case Cliffs Natural Resources — exercised a right to relocate the road at state expense. Furthermore, the move also affects the Highway 135 exit toward Gilbert, which requires a second, smaller bridge.

Cliffs says it needs to access the new ore to keep open its United Taconite mine in Eveleth and processing plant in Forbes. Essentially, Cliffs says hundreds of jobs are at stake.

This drone camera footage shows the dramatic scope of the new Highway 53 bridge that will connect Eveleth and Virginia in November 2017:

You’ll note that with such a tall bridge, 240-ton haul trucks or train cars could easily pass underneath. That’s significant, because mine ownership will likely change and consolidate in the future, continuing a global trend. Thus, companies could easily haul the valuable ore underneath the old Highway 53 up to the Minorca or Minntac plants on the other side of Virginia.

I don’t know for a fact that’s what will happen. No one does, at least officially. But it’s important to recognize this possibility. When discussing mining, the most important issue is access the mineral resource. Who mines it and who benefits from the revenue becomes an ever-shifting factor. This variable alters the fate of places all over the world. Certainly this includes our Iron Range region of Northern Minnesota.

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