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Minn. bridges getting closer look

Study to explore cost to repair, replace spans

By Drew Kerr
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — Bridges spanning the Midtown Greenway will get a closer look as they approach the century mark, and the findings could help determine whether a streetcar line is built in the historic freight rail corridor.

Hennepin County, the city of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Transportation plan to hire a consultant and begin a $210,000 study of the bridges over the popular bikeway early next year, wrapping up their work by 2014.

The study will focus on 37 bridges that cross the popular bike trail between Cedar and Hennepin avenues, in south Minneapolis.

Many of the bridges were built between 1913 and 1916, when the now-shuttered freight rail line was lowered to reduce the number of at-grade crossings. Although none of the bridges are considered at risk of immediate closure, officials say they are structurally or functionally problematic and have needed significant repairs in recent years.

Kim Zlimen, a county engineer working on the study, said the work is needed to determine how much it would cost to repair or replace the bridges, information that will help determine whether such investments make sense.

“A lot of them are not in great shape, so the question is how much is prudent to spend on rehabilitation, and how much useful life is left,” Zlimen said. “If we get to a point where we need to talk about major rehab, we want to know how to move forward and have a program in place.”

The study comes five years after a 2007 city-commissioned report that found replacing the bridges would cost $1.5 million to $1.8 million, in 2004 dollars. The study also identified several bridges – on Colfax, 18th, 12th, 14th and Aldrich avenues – that could be converted to pedestrian-only crossings.

Zlimen said the 2007 study needs to be updated because it did not go into enough detail, and didn’t present any specific recommendations.

The bridge investigation comes as officials consider whether a streetcar line could be built in the Midtown Greenway. The idea is among several options being considered as a way to connect the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit line and the Southwest LRT line.

Michael Mechtenberg, a transit planner with Metro Transit coordinating the transit study, said existing bridges complicate the streetcar plans because they might not be able to accommodate street-level stations and could leave the corridor too narrow for dual tracks.

If only one set of tracks can be built in the corridor, service would be limited, reducing ridership and potentially hurting chances to obtain federal funding.

Whatever bridge work is needed, the hope is that it will happen before any large transit investment is made.

“We don’t want to start service, than shut down for two years while repairs are ongoing,” Mechtenberg said.

Soren Jensen, the executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, said his group hopes the study will help set the stage for a streetcar line and that new infrastructure could open the door to new amenities such as street lighting or public art.

But the old bridges are an important part of the corridor’s history and character, Jensen said. Bridges in a three-mile stretch between Humboldt and 20th avenues are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The bridges really are a part of the charm of the Greenway,” Jensen said. “On the other hand, they’re 100-years-old and they’re not in great shape so we have this quandary.”

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