An ongoing problem for cyclists in the Twin Cities metro area, especially motivated commuters willing to cycle great distances each day, is a lack of options for crossing the Minnesota River. The Minnesota River is surrounded by a buffer of lakes & wetlands, and the resulting greenbelt surrounding the river can be over a mile wide in places. Bridges that can span this substantial distance are costly, and I think it’s safe to assume that no new bridge crossing locations are on the horizon anytime in the foreseeable future. This means we really need to make the most of our existing crossings. The problem for cyclists is that bikes are prohibited from using several of the existing bridges – specifically I-35W and TH-77. The result is a 15-mile wide stretch between the next closest bike crossings – Old Bloomington Ferry near US-169 (which is underwater during flood season) and I-494 east of the airport.
One potential improvement, which nearly everyone can agree on, is the Old Cedar Avenue bridge, a historic (and abandoned) bridge crossing near TH-77. The problem: Nobody wants to assume the risk of owning such an old bridge.
According to a StarTribune article,
[The City of Bloomington] is not budging from its position that unless someone takes the rusting bridge off the city’s hands, it will continue to sit and rot.
“Everybody wants something done,” City Manager Mark Bernhardson said on Wednesday. “If people feel that way, they should take ownership.
“We never wanted this bridge in the first place. The state handed it to us, and we had no choice.”
Although experts have estimated that a low-end rehabilitation of the bridge would cost less than $6 million, city officials are concerned that a partially restored bridge will need continuing maintenance and that the city will bear the cost.
So there is an existing bridge, which everyone agrees is a perfect and much-needed bike/ped crossing location, but it needs substantial rehabilitation. Previous reports indicated that it would be cheaper to replace the bridge than renovate, but the structure is historic, so replacement is effectively off the table. Even several grants, allowing the City to amass a total of $8.8 million to renovate the structure isn’t enough to convince the City to embrace ownership. Full restoration, as reported by the Star Tribune, would cost up to $9.9 million.
The City’s reluctance to own the structure is understandable, but apparently nobody else has expressed interest in owning the structure. Potential partners who would be better suited for ownership may include Hennepin County, Three Rivers Park District, MnDOT, DNR, or some arm of the Federal Department of the Interior.
While I can certainly understand why no agencies are stepping forward to assume ownership of this bridge, this is really a silly problem for a modern metro area to have, especially for a bridge that nearly everyone can agree is of regional significance. The full restoration is the only reasonable long-term solution – we even have nearly all the funding necessary for it. Now we just need to figure out who is willing to take on the project.
My vote is for the DNR, since they will ultimately be the owners and operators of the Minnesota Valley State Trail that will connect to the bridge.