Bike tunnel to be built under new I-35W bridge

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Council members voted to spend $1.2 million on the bike lane.

Hoping to ensure future bike and pedestrian access, the Minneapolis City Council voted Feb. 15 to spend up to $1.2 million on a tunnel to run beneath the south side of the new Interstate 35W bridge.

The decision was made to guarantee the tunnel will be included in the bridge’s design, although it will likely take years to actually install a bike path. The $1.2 million would not cover the cost of a bike path; rather it’s how much the city is willing to pay for the design and creation of the tunnel.

The council’s 8-to-3 decision upset some council members because the city will not be able to negotiate the actual price of the culvert. The Minnesota Department of Transportation will work out a price with the bridge’s contractors, Flatiron Constructors, Inc., and Manson Construction Co.

The tunnel would make it possible to eventually construct a bike path linking the University to downtown Minneapolis, said Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, whose district includes the University area.

That path would connect with Bridge 9, a bicycle and pedestrian bridge on the University’s campus, then go underneath the I-35W bridge into downtown, said Gordon, who voted in favor of the resolution.

“If we didn’t act quickly, they would just fill in that whole area,” he said. “We wanted to preserve this access so that we can eventually have a bike path.”

Ward 11 Councilman Scott Benson, who voted against the resolution, said he has no confidence MnDOT will negotiate a reasonable price on behalf of the city.

“How in the world a little culvert through this thing could cost $1.2 million is just beyond me,” he said. “I’m just troubled by the outlandish price that MnDOT’s contractor thinks they need to charge us to put a hole through the bridge.”

The department will do its best to make sure the cost is fair and reasonable, MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said.

He also said the culvert, which will be more than 200 feet long, will not make the bridge any less safe.

Ward 8 Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden said she’s uneasy about the fact that the city won’t play a role in negotiations. Cost estimates for the tunnel range from $500,000 to $1.4 million, she said.

Although she voted in favor of the resolution, Glidden proposed that the city cap spending at $900,000. That motion was rejected.

“This is something that we wanted to benefit our residents,” she said.

The city’s money will come from state aid that was allocated for railroad-crossing improvements, but will have to be returned to that project in coming years.

Glidden said city staff advised the council not to approve this funding for two reasons: The project isn’t eligible for federal funds because it wasn’t identified as a priority in the city’s master plan, and there is an alternative route for the bicycle path that would go through the area.

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