Peter Sanderson was looking at a sea-link project in India when he heard about the Minneapolis Interstate 35W bridge collapse on Aug. 1, 2007. He knew immediately that he would not stay in India: “I believed surely there would be a lot of work to do in the U.S.”

Photo: Tim Davis
New St. Anthony Falls bridge rises at site of tragic I-35W crossing collapse.

Not long after, Flatiron Construction Corp., Longmont, Colo., called upon Sanderson to lead the design-build team with Manson Construction Co. and designer Figg Engineering Group that would vie for, and win, the $234-million fast-track contract to rebuild the bridge.

“Peter was probably one of the best project managers I’ve worked with,” says Jon Chiglo, his counterpart at the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation. Between the leadership of Chiglo on the owner’s side, and Sanderson on the designbuilder’s side, the new precast segmental bridge with a 504-ft-long main span was ready for traffic three months early, just 13 months after the collapse.

Thanks to the tight ship the duo steered, the feat occurred with no major injuries, with constant community outreach and with unprecedented levels of quality inspections.

“Jon was extremely exacting, but helpful,” says Sanderson of those inspections. “It enabled us to get going. MnDOT reviewed drawings and designs and there was no obstruction.”

Sanderson’s global experience and mix of social and civil engineering skills were vital to the structural and public success of a high-profile job.

Chiglo cut his teeth on two of the eight design-build projects MnDOT had tackled before this historic one, and his ability to relate to the contracting team is evident: “When you look at the people [the design-build team] brought in, they left their lives behind,” he says. “They sacrificed quite a bit. There was no ability to go home very frequently. I really admire and appreciate that sacrifice. They did it because of the circumstances. It’s very encouraging when you see that kind of commitment.”

The commitment extended to public outreach. “Every Saturday morning, Peter Sanderson led people from the community on tours of the construction, giving them confidence in the new bridge,” says Linda Figg, president of the titular Tallahassee design firm. “Peter’s constant focus on safety resulted in no lost-time incidents, even through the intense Minneapolis winter and the accelerated schedule.”

Figg extended that outreach by coming up with a popular school program in which students made mosaic tiles to be placed on an approach to the bridge.

Chiglo and Sanderson anticipate more work to come. “I’m managing any money we might get in the stimulus package,” says Chiglo. “Last year, the state legislature passed additional funding, partly for replacement of deficient bridges. There are 121 bridges in the program and $2.5 billion over 10 years.

Sanderson hopes the stimulus package reflects a public realization of the need for better infrastructure and resulting work to come. “I’m looking forward to it. I think the whole construction industry is looking forward to it.”