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RELEASE: Rep. Lislegard champions bill to name Hwy. 53 bridge after Rukavina; deliver Virginia gap funding

Thursday, January 31, 2019

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – State Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL – Aurora) today introduced a bill in the Minnesota House to name the Highway 53 bridge over the Rouchleau mine pit in Virginia – the tallest bridge in the entire state –  the “Tom Rukavina Memorial Bridge” after the longtime former Iron Range lawmaker who passed away earlier this month. The bill also includes $5.4 million to reimburse the city of Virginia for their share of costs incurred in the rerouting of the highway.

“I’m honored to be the chief author of this legislation which accomplishes two major things: makes the city of Virginia whole for their contributions to this enormous project, and honors Tom Rukavina for his enormous contributions to our region over a lifetime of public service,” Rep. Lislegard said. “Some of us may find irony in having Tommy’s name on the tallest bridge in the state, but this is a perfect way to remind us all of his work to strengthen opportunities for working people here on the Range and throughout the state.”

The bridge rises 204 ft. above the water in the mine pit and is widely considered a massive engineering phenomenon. Its construction was part of a 3.2 mile reroute of the highway completed last year at a cost of $240 million. The move was necessitated by Cleveland Cliffs’s reclamation of land underneath the former highway stemming from a decades-long agreement over mineral leases.

The bill got an early boost as Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL – Minneapolis), chair of the House Transportation Division, signed on as a co-author and even joined Rep. Lislegard to drop the bill into “the hopper.”

"I am very honored to co-author Rep. Lislegard's bill to name Highway 53 Bridge after my friend, Tom Rukavina,” said Rep. Hornstein, who served a decade with Rukavina. “Tom was a tireless fighter for everyday people and the Iron Range. The Tom Rukavina Bridge memorializes Tom's many legislative accomplishments to the people of the Iron Range."

The city of Virginia incurred cost overruns when having utility work associated with the rerouting performed, and local leaders had sought for years to recoup this money from the state. This “gap funding” was included in the 2018 budget bill, but that package ultimately did not become law due to unrelated disputes between the former Legislature and Governor. Rep. Lislegard is confident that after years of hard work, it will finally get taken care of this session.

“It’s absolutely clear that this funding gap should be responsibility of the state of Minnesota, and not be put on the backs of local taxpayers,” Rep. Lislegard added. “Folks in Virginia deserve to have this taken care of, and I’m extremely optimistic we can get this over the finish line.”

PHOTO: Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL – Aurora) and House Transportation Chair Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL – Minneapolis) introduce a bill naming the new Highway 53 bridge in Virginia after former state Rep. Tom Rukavina. The legislation also includes $5.4 million for the city of Virginia to recoup local costs from rerouting of the highway.