Long before anyone ever thought of building a six-lane freeway over the Minnesota River connecting Eagan and Bloomington, an 1890s-era swing bridge carried vehicle traffic and opened to allow river traffic to pass through. The only remaining evidence of this old bridge is a longer fixed bridge, the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge, that crosses Long Meadow Lake on the north side of the main river channel and provides access to the spot where the old swing bridge once was. This bridge was built in 1920 and was part of the old Cedar Avenue highway crossing until 1980 when the new six-lane highway crossing that we use today was opened. The old bridge was given to the City of Bloomington in 1981 and was declared unsafe to all traffic in 2002. This means that there is no longer any direct access to the bicycle bridge across the main channel of the river that was constructed at the same time as the six-lane freeway and bikers no longer have a way to cross the river at this location.
The Twin Cities Metro area has one of the highest percentages of bicycle commuters in the country. Thanks to Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), Minnesota is part of the national Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project, a four-year, four-state, $21.5 million initiative. (See Bike/Walk Twin Cities Projects Funded.) Bloomington was not included in the initial round of grants under the program, but the city is working with Minneapolis and Richfield anticipating that the commuting routes that they create and/or enhance with these grant monies will connect with routes in Bloomington. A Minnesota River crossing at the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge location could ultimately be part of a metro-wide bicycle commuting network. In the current atmosphere of rising fuel costs, this option could become more and more viable for residents of the metropolitan area, especially with existing light rail stations in Bloomington close at hand.
A new boardwalk would also allow much greater access to that part of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge commonly known as the Long Meadow Lake Unit. This would benefit nature lovers, fishermen and other users of the refuge. The total cost of the project is $4.5 million. Some funding for a boardwalk across Long Meadow Lake has been identified, but more is needed. Elected officials at the city, county, state and federal level have all worked very hard to try to secure the additional funding necessary to make this boardwalk a reality. It has been a bi-partisan effort in every respect and other constituent groups such as local birding and biking organizations and the Friends of the Minnesota Valley have also been involved.
Supporters of a new boardwalk will rally at noon on July 14 at the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge. Key officials from state and local government will be there to get a first hand view of the situation, hosted by State Representative Ann Lenczewski (D-Bloomington and Chair of the House Tax Committee). Next year there will be an important bonding bill passed in the Legislature and this creates an opportunity to get the necessary funding to make this project a reality. For more information about this project or about the upcoming rally please contact Jim Gates, Deputy Director of Public Works for the City of Bloomington, 952-563-8730.
Bob Williams is a resident of Bloomington and a member of the Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter, the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union and the Friends of the Minnesota Valley.