Questions linger over Highway 53 plan

Highway 53Plans to relocate one of the Iron Range’s busiest highways to accommodate a mining company continue to progress, though the Virginia City Council opted to hold off its support, for now, after a recent public forum.

The Mesabi Daily News reports that Virginia councilors remain concerned about how the new route of the highway will serve the Midway addition, an isolated section of the city located near the new proposed mining area between Virginia proper and Eveleth. Other details, however, such as the $220 million, 1,100-foot bridge spanning part of the Rouchleau Pit appear to be a go.

The more fascinating part of the MDN story, however, are the nuggets gleaned from comments made during the meeting.

For instance, the long bridge across the pit will feature a 42-inch concrete barrier and four-foot “ornamental fence” to prevent people from jumping. Water and sewer lines will cross the bridge underneath the highway. Pilings for the bridge will not be placed in the water, meaning that the part over the pit will be freestanding. Environmental concerns prevent use of deicing methods on the bridge, but a bumpy, coarse bridge surface will allow traction, engineers say. Though MN-DOT is studying the effects of nearby mine blasting on the bridge, the bigger concern now (and in the minds of most Highway 53 commuters I speak to) is wind.

MN-DOT will provide $500,000 for “aesthetics” for the bridge, though any desire to light the bridge with different colors for special events would have to be paid for by the city of Virginia. Some kind of decorative flags — either of nations or particular colors — would be my suggestion, though it occurs to me that maintaining anything along this bridge is going to be a tall order, pun intended.

The relocation of the highway, which is otherwise up to code, is required by a 1960s agreement between the mining land fee holders and the state. At the time it was not certain when, if ever, the mine would reach the highway. Well, it has, and Cliffs-operated United Taconite now seeks to mine the area underneath the existing highway. Efforts to locate the highway off the ore formation entirely were met with strong local opposition because it would have bypassed Eveleth and most of Virginia entirely. So now we’ll have a new road an expensive new bridge over land that still has iron ore underneath it. Don’t worry, 45 years is pretty much the same thing as forever, right?


  1. The “2017 Annual Average Daily Traffic” map from the Department of Transportation shows very little traffic. Not very many people are predicted to use the infrastructure in 2017.

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