Bill would name state’s tallest bridge for Tom Rukavina

The Highway 53 Bridge opened to traffic on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (MnDot webcam)

On Thursday, State Rep. David Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) introduced a bill that would name the Highway 53 bridge between Eveleth and Virginia the Tom Rukavina Memorial Bridge.

Rukavina, a longtime Iron Range legislator known for his fiery speeches and pro-labor politics, died Jan. 6 after battling cancer. He was 68.

The Highway 53 bridge was part of a quarter-billion dollar project completed in 2017. The state rerouted this major north-south corridor around a United Taconite iron mine expansion. The Minnesota Dept. of Transportation had agreed to move the highway at taxpayer expense back in the 1960s should the land ever be needed for mining. Officials then doubted this would happen, but it sure as heck did.

Lislegard’s bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), will also compensate the city of Virginia for cost overruns related to the highway project. Such funding was included in an omnibus bill last session. However, the legislation fell apart along with negotiations between the Republican legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

In 2017, the Iron Range Tourism Bureau sponsored an online contest that named “Taconite Sky Bridge” as the span’s preferred moniker. Legislators at the time did not act to officially name the bridge, however.

Now, with the untimely passing of an Iron Range political legend, the new proposal may leave that name in history’s dustbin. That is, if the bill can pass the DFL House and Republican Senate and win the signature of DFL Gov. Tim Walz.


  1. What a bunch of political b.s. We the people just went through a lengthy fun process of deciding what we want to call a big local bridge built with our money. The “People’s Choice” selection was narrowed down to five names. “Taconite Sky Bridge” was the winner and forwarded to St. Paul for their consideration.

    What does St. Paul do? Throw out all the names we the people came up with and pick their own name, a name which never came up once throughout the “People’s Choice” naming process. So much for “we the people.”

    If we’re not going to listen to what the current electorate has to say, perhaps it’s time state and local governments reconsider naming buildings, bridges, highways, parks and other public places after recent politicians and instead look to honor local culture and history. Somewhat like renaming Lake Calhoun to Lake Bde Maka Ska….and Squaw Lake to Nature’s Lake. If we’re not going to listen to we the people, they could at least go with something honoring our local historical culture – Mahpiya Cheyagthunpi. 

  2. Daven Ray Ritari says

    People before Politics, really~ I understand your pain Ranger47. First of all it was a Contest conducted by the Iron Range Tourism Bureau, now after a year and a half, local legislators select a name that was not in the original group being considered. Moreover, My suggestion was the Milford Mine Memorial Bridge, has anyone heard of the Milford Mine? Short history lesson, On Feb. 5 th, 1924, at My suggestion, 3:45 shortly before quitting time, a mine on the Cuyuna Range, in the 8th Congressional district filled with water in the matter of minutes, killing 41 of the 48 men in the mine that day, leaving 29 widows, and 88 orphans. The worst Iron mining accident in this states and nations history, yet few have heard of it. Those Iron mining families paid the ultimate price, not only emotionally, but economically. Yet, because of the nature of the beast, the Steel Industry, very few know of this story, which is why I’m telling you now. This would make a much better picture than North Country, sad story yes, but One worth getting out there~

    Your local legislators could have told you the story, but they choose not to, after the Milfold Mine, but because it was negative and because it happened on the Cuyuna Range~ It’s a STATE BRIDGE~ No, so rather naming it after a multiple DUI dude, or the .08 Bridge~ Let’s name it after a name of the 41 Miners, 29 widows, and 88 orphans. Rangers~ Miners and Mining Families~ Educating, and creating some history . Tom’s height times 41 men killed in the the worst FE accident ever, equals the the height of the bridge, and the depth of the Milfolrd Mine! Ironic!

    • What a great suggestion Daven. It beats my Native American idea. They might have taught us have to grow corn but they had nothing to do with mining. I’m a bit familiar with the Milford Mine tragedy having golfed at Cuyuna Golf club and having looked at lake property on Rabbit Lake, just east of the water filled Milford pit. 

      I agree, what a cruel, ironic twist it’d be to name a state roadway after a DUI guy. But…we’re dealing with self-centered politicians so you never know.  

    • For those interested there is now an exceptionally fine memorial at the site of the Milford Mine, just north of Crosby a few miles. Highly recommended if you get the opportunity to visit.

  3. Daven Ray Ritari says

    No, Don’t do it~ His name is hypocritical~ He had multiple DUI”s, He got to vote on laws that he would eventually brake, getting DUI”S.

    I understand, he loved working people, miners, and Rangers, working people in general. However, I believe, he would have fought tooth and nail, for my suggested name of the Hwy 53 bridge.

    The 41 miners who died in the worse Iron Mining Accident in this States, and Nations History~ Yet, know few, if anyone, knows of this accident~ It left 41 men dead, 29 widows, and 88 orphans, Feb 5th, 1924.

    They will never make a movie about tom, but they may about the 41 killed February 5 th 1924, and the lives of the 29 widows and 88 orphans.

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