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MDOT: Some bridge lane closures to last through fall

HOUGHTON — Lane closures on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge are expected to continue in some form “until the snow flies,” Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Dan Weingarten said Thursday.

The work is part of a $3.9 million project of structural, mechanical and electrical improvements started last winter. Traffic had been expected to reopen across all four lanes at the start of September after crews finish work on the finger joints that connect the lift bridge span to the stationary part of the bridge.

The finger joint work is hoped to be completed on Sept. 9. At that point, both northbound lanes will reopen for a period, which should ease traffic flow there, Weingarten said.

But as crews have removed old finger joints, they’ve found additional repairs needed underneath so they can set the new ones, Weingarten said.

After work on the northbound lane finishes, they will move to the southbound inside lane until around Sept. 15, when they will work on the northbound outside lane.

“Once that work is done, we can reopen the inside lanes, which are slightly wider than the outside lanes … that, we’re hoping, will smooth the traffic flow over the bridge, because the 12-foot lane is going to allow people to get across a little faster,” Weingarten said.

MDOT has taken other steps to mitigate the impact of the lane closures, Weingarten said. The contractor has scheduled night work when possible, and added extra staff and subcontractors to assist in bridge work. To minimize traffic backups during rush hour, MDOT also obtained a temporary clearance from the U.S. Coast Guard restricting lifts for recreational traffic between 7:30-8:30 a.m. and 4:30-5:30 p.m. on weekdays.

MDOT had asked the Coast Guard for longer periods where the bridge could not be raised, Weingarten said.

“They are just trying to maintain boat traffic, because nautical traffic takes precedence,” he said.

Because the Portage Canal is a federal waterway, permanent changes to regulating maritime traffic would require Congressional approval.

Other work still to be completed in the Houghton area includes the work on U.S. 41 between Pearl Street and MacInnes Drive, slated to end on Sept. 24, and a single-lane closure for culvert work on Lakeshore Drive near Chassell, which is scheduled to be finished Sept. 10.

“We have 20 projects in the U.P. still underway, so it’s not the end of the construction season by any stretch,” Weingarten said.

More work will be left on the bridge project after this fall, but it should have less impact on traffic. New motors for the lift bridge will be installed between January and March. The work had been scheduled for last winter, but was pushed back because parts were unavailable, Weingarten said. The entire project should be complete before boat traffic returns next spring.

“We regret the delays that have happened up there,” Weingarten said. “We certainly understand that folks have been inconvenienced by this project, but it’s an important project to keep the lift bridge, which is a critical link to the Keweenaw Peninsula, functioning into the future.”

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