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Who is willing to own an old bridge?

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.

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge Deck

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge Deck by k.landerholm, on Flickr

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.

8 comments to Who is willing to own an old bridge?

  • There’s a slight error in the post: the nearest crossing is actually I-494, though the Mendota Bridge (TH 55) path is much more heavily used. Regardless, though, we need a Cedar Ave crossing reopened. What I find particularly irritating is that the Cedar Ave/Hwy 77 freeway bridge actually DOES have a cycle path attached — but only halfway. Engineers clearly though bicycles would prefer to go down to ground level, then switch to another bridge halfway across the river. This was a fundamental oversight that comes from seeing bicycling only as recreational and not a form of serious transportation.

    I propose we use the existing Cedar Ave freeway bridge for a more direct crossing. I’m quite confident retrofitting that crossing will be much cheaper than rehabilitating the old Long Meadow Bridge. If money comes forward for that, great — but safe, legal cycling in the south metro shouldn’t be held up because of that.

    In any case: Cedar Avenue between Apple Valley and Minneapolis is Mn/DOT’s road. Mn/DOT prohibits bicycles from using this road. It was Mn/DOT’s decision to rely on a dying structure for this crossing. It behooves them, not Bloomington, to pay for reopening this crossing to bikes.

  • @Sean – Thank you for bring the error to my attention. I certainly meant I-494 rather than TH-55.

    It is definitely unfortunate that bike/ped access was not included in the original design for the Long Meadow Lake bridge. I like to think that if we were building that bridge again today, that we wouldn’t make the same mistake.

  • Reuben:
    I think you’re right. In fact, ignoring the issue is not even legal anymore.

    165.14, Subd. 4 contains:

    (d) All bridge projects funded under this section in fiscal year 2012 or later must include bicycle and pedestrian accommodations if both sides of the bridge are located in a city or the bridge links a pedestrian way, shared-use path, trail, or scenic bikeway.
    Bicycle and pedestrian accommodations would not be required if:
    (1) a comprehensive assessment demonstrates that there is an absence of need for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations for the life of the bridge; or
    (2) there is a reasonable alternative bicycle and pedestrian crossing within one-quarter mile of the bridge project.
    All bicycle and pedestrian accommodations should enable a connection to any existing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in close proximity to the bridge. All pedestrian facilities must meet or exceed federal accessibility requirements as outlined in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, codified in United States Code, title 42, chapter 126, subchapter II, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, codified in United States Code, title 29, section 794.

    So… we are getting better. We just, unfortunately, get stuck with past mistakes for a very long time.

  • Dawn

    I wonder, what are the estimates to repair the bridge? Does anyone know? I can’t locate this information.

  • Dawn

    If the low end is 6 mil, what is the high end? The bridge is so far gone… I wonder if it isn’t more?

  • @Dawn – One of the StarTribune articles linked to above place the high-end estimate at $9.9 million. And I think the City of Bloomington would echo your concern that trying to restore this bridge could quickly result in many unanticipated costs….

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