City asks for public input on parkway bridge replacement

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It’s an historically significant neighborhood landmark, but engineers say the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge is also structurally deficient and in need of replacement.

At a meeting Monday, city officials outlined some of the choices that lie ahead for the new bridge, including what it will look like, where it would be positioned, and how much it might cost.

The existing bridge spans 524 feet across the BNSF railroad yard, just west of University Avenue. It’s a Warren truss bridge built in 1925 and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also part of the Grand Rounds byway.

“I hate to see it go, but I reluctantly agree it has to,” said Michael Melman, one of several residents who commented at the meeting. “It’s part of the core identity of the neighborhood.”

City officials’ concerns about the bridge date back long before last month’s I-35W bridge collapse, said Jack Yuzna, a city engineer who led Monday’s presentation.

In 2002 the city started seeking funds for a rehabilitation project that was scheduled to start this year. Last year, however, engineers determined reinforcing the concrete piers under the bridge would cost far more than previously expected. They instead recommended replacing the bridge.

The targeted construction start date for the new bridge is now sometime in 2011, depending on the availability of funding, Yuzna said. The city is seeking $16 million for the project, including an $8 million federal grant.

What’s proposed is a 54-foot-wide deck that would accommodate two lanes of vehicle traffic between a 14-foot-wide bike trail on the south a 10-foot-wide sidewalk on the north.

A recently completed bridge replacement study sketches out several possible looks for the structure, ranging from flat and plain to over the top. The report also contains options for adjusting the bridge’s position. Nudging the east end of the bridge slightly to the north could shorten the bridge by as much as 200 feet, reducing costs and improving safety. But the change could also create right-of-way complications with land ownership.

Another idea being explored is running Main Street underneath the bridge, east of the railroad yard, Yuzna said. The change might improve traffic flow and create more room for bike paths and sidewalks along the street.

Yuzna said he’s optimistic about the federal money because the city applied for the grant before the I-35W bridge collapse and the subsequent nationwide calls for better inspection and investment in bridges. Railroad officials have also indicated they plan to contribute a portion of the costs, Yuzna said.

Council Member Paul Ostrow said the city will be seeking state bonding money for the St. Anthony Parkway Bridge, and that the project will rank high in its overall request.

State Rep. Diane Loeffler, who also attended the meeting, cautioned that legislators could be overwhelmed with bridge-related requests during the next session.

“There’s going to be tons of competition because every city in the state is looking at their bridges,” Loeffler said.

The St. Anthony Parkway Bridge is rated 34 out of 100 on a scale used by engineers to rate bridges. The score places it in the category of ”structurally deficient.” Like the I-35W bridge and most truss bridges it doesn’t have redundancies, or backups, in place in case a segment fails.

“Deficient doesn’t mean it’s going to collapse,” Yuzna said. He compared it to vitamins: if a person isn’t getting enough, it doesn’t mean they collapse, but they could be healthier if they weren’t deficient.

Yuzna said he expects to find out about the federal funding in the next couple of months. After that, Ostrow said he would like to establish a public input task force with members from the Columbia Park and Marshall Terrace neighborhoods. The group would likely start meeting early next year.

Monday’s discussion was a joint meeting of those two neighborhood associations. A handful of residents raised questions and concerns related to traffic, historical preservation and aesthetics.

“Everybody in the neighborhood has a stake in this,” Melman said, “because they have to look at it every day.”

If you would like to join the public input task force, contact the Columbia Park Neighborhood Association at CPNA-NRP@yahoogroups.com or Concerned Citizens of Marshall Terrace at 612-706-1460.