Chad Hanson sat at his desk in 2009 and began working on a new Red Wing bridge, a project that would cost $63 million and not be finished until Nov. 21, 2019.
As a principal project manager for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Hanson, who lives in Goodhue with wife Andrea and daughter Mari, was the point man for a massive organizational venture.
“I worked to bring the different teams together,” said Hanson, who has worked for MnDOT for 20 years. “I managed the overall scope of the project, the schedule, and the budget. I had to look at the environmental piece, the alternatives analysis, public involvement, and stakeholder involvement. I had to bring everything together.”
Doing this required numerous meetings with the city of Red Wing, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and many others to learn about each group’s concerns and needs. Conducting all the environmental studies and getting approvals required three years of work.
“It’s kind of a learning process, because you don’t know how the project is going to turn out until you get to the end,” Hanson said. “You have to take a look at all the different steps along the way.”
One of the forces that moved the Red Wing project along was a result of the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in 2007, two years before Hanson began work on what was to become the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor.
“The state Legislature set aside a certain amount of funding for all the bridges in the state that were considered fracture critical,” Hanson said. “This is one that was identified in that program.”
Fracture critical is the term used to describe a bridge on which a failure of a component under tension would result in the collapse of the bridge or the inability to continue using the bridge. Hanson said that any bridge in that category had to be evaluated to see if it could be repaired or if it needed to be replaced.
The Red Wing bridge needed to be replaced, so Hanson and his teams had to evaluate how to handle 13,000 cars each day being directed into downtown Red Wing at the junction of three major highways. They also had to consider how to replace the bridge while maintaining traffic, since the nearest bridge upstream is in Hastings and the nearest bridge downstream is in Wabasha, both requiring long detours for traffic.
Hanson’s job did not include designing the bridge, but he brought together the people who did.
“There were dozens of people involved in the design of the bridge, and there were countless consultants who helped,” he said.
Hanson managed to lead the project from his wheelchair, the result of a 1998 car wreck that left him paralyzed. He was a junior at the University of Minnesota at the time of the wreck, and after four months in the hospital, he was released and returned to school, graduating in 2001 with a degree in civil engineering. He started working for MnDOT soon after.
His injury required some adjustments in office equipment, but he said, “I do the same job that everybody else does. I just maybe do it in a little bit different way than other people do it. I don’t see it as a negative impact on me.”
Hanson uses voice activation on his computer and can move the cursor with a head mouse.
“A lot of that stuff is becoming more mainstream with people,” Hanson said. “Everybody’s got Siri or Google Home now. It’s been part of my life for 20-plus years, so it’s come to be second nature to me.”
At any one time, Hanson might be handling up to 15 projects. He’s currently working on a bridge replacement over Whither’s Harbor Drive in Red Wing in 2023, and another bridge replacement over the railroad tracks near Mississippi National Golf Course in 2025.
While all those projects are interesting, it’s the Eisenhower Bridge of Valor that has been his biggest accomplishment.
“Looking back on it, it’s pretty remarkable,” Hanson said. “All the people that helped support the project and provided input into it. It was definitely a team effort.”