They’re planning the Singing Bridge’s swan song.
The county has plans to tear down the old Lowry Bridge and replace it with a new structure, and officials are seeking residents’ input. At an Aug. 21 public meeting at North Regional Library, Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein said he was surprised to learn that many people are fond of the old structure.
“People said they like it because it has character. Some call it the ‘Singing Bridge’ because of the sound it makes when they drive over it. There is more sentimentality over that bridge than I expected,” Stenglein said. “It is unique, but it has problems. It’s also an open grate bridge, which environmentally is not that good for the river.”
The county owns the Lowry Bridge, which was built in 1905. “It was substantially rebuilt in 1958; they made it 20 feet higher, but used the same footings. We thought we could get 20 more years out of it, but when workers were redecking it in 2004, they found that the bridge had shifted 11 inches,” Stenglein said.
“The plan for a new bridge has been in our bonding priorities for the last two years,” he added. At the Aug. 21 meeting, he said, some people who attended–especially business owners– expressed concern over how long the bridge will be closed for construction.
Many people are interested in the new design, and said they want a “signature” bridge.
“All that, of course, is a function of the money,” Stenglein said. “We want to make sure the community has a good comfort level with a replacement bridge. Hennepin County has a good history of doing things first class; this will be no exception.”
Bob Marget, owner of River Liquor Store, 2435 Marshall St. NE, said he attended the meeting and also served on the Above the Falls and Lowry Avenue Corridor Plan committees. He said he is concerned about the bridge being closed, because much of his business comes from the North Side (the bridge connects Northeast and North Minneapolis). Northeast commuters who use the bridge to get to jobs on the west end of the city–at places such as North Memorial Medical Center– are also good customers, he said.
“The last time the bridge was closed for a year in 2005, I was down a considerable amount in my business. If they close it for two or more years and there’s no assistance, and they don’t develop the corner of Lowry and Marshall, it’s going to be tough for me. It has taken us almost a year and a half to get back to where we were before it closed the first time.”
In 2005, he added, the plan had been to close it only for three months for redecking. But after they discovered the problem with the bridge shifting, it was closed for eight more months.
“This time, when it’s closed, I’d like the county to start work on the Lowry/Marshall street scaping, putting in turn lanes, ornamental lighting, burying the power lines and improving the crosswalks. It would be nice if it could get done at the same time the work was going on on the bridge.”
Marget said he too likes the bridge. “It’s the last of that style of bridge. But if it’s shifting and the piers are over 100 years old, it’s time to replace it. It’ll hurt me, but it’s the thing to do.”
He questions, however, how the bridge got into such a state. “The truck traffic is really eating it apart. The bridge is used very heavily by the railroad; they load up semis and take them over the Lowry Bridge. Why isn’t there a weight restriction on it? Nobody seems able to answer that for me.”
Jacob Bronder, Hennepin County bridge design engineer, said the county has hired SRF Consultants, who have teamed up with T.Y. Lin, an international bridge firm, to put together recommendations for the new Lowry Bridge. There is a technical advisory committee (made up of county staff members) and a project advisory committee (made up of residents and staff members) working on the project.
Replacing the Lowry Bridge with another “steel through truss” bridge is not economically feasible, Bronder said. “At the time it was rebuilt in the late 1950s it probably wasn’t that expensive, but that has changed. This is one of the last of its type on the Mississippi River. We’re out there at least once a year repairing something on it. The repairs require the bridge to be closed. If the pieces we repair continue to degrade, you’d have holes in the deck. The bridge is not in imminent danger of failure, but it would be if we didn’t give it immediate attention. We go out once a month and survey it to determine if any piers or supporting elements have moved.”
New bridge construction might start in late 2009 or early 2010, Bronder said. “We don’t want this old bridge to be out there longer than it has to be. In its current state it’s a big expense to the county. We’d expect two full years of construction on a new bridge.”
Although the county is the sole owner, he said, they will likely find participating agencies to help fund the new construction. “We have already applied for federal funds and will be asking the state legislature for building bonds, if not during a special session then at least in the next legislative session. We’re hopeful that there will be a special session.”
Bronder said that 25 people (of about 40 who attended) responded to a survey handed out at the Aug. 21 meeting. “Many people want the new bridge to be four lanes instead of two. They also want it to be unique and distinctive, although not necessarily expensive.”
County staff and consultants provided 10 different drawings of bridge designs and gave an overview of the project. Cost estimates for a new bridge are about $30 million, Bronder said, depending on its type and other factors, including right of way concerns. “We’re going to have to widen this bridge, which will impact any adjacent properties. We won’t do anything to the new bridge to make it so BRT [bus rapid transit] will not be able to be accommodated. We may not put rails in the deck to accommodate future light rail, but we will make sure the bridge will carry the extra load.”
After the collapse of the 35W bridge, Bronder said they noticed an increase in traffic on the Lowry Bridge. “It’s gotten three to five times more traffic than we’ve ever seen. That will also decrease its life expectancy and increase the maintenance.”
He said there will be two more open houses. The next one will be in the fall, but has not yet been scheduled. The third will be in spring, 2008 and will include the “roll out” of the proposed design for the new bridge.
Bridge concepts and a copy of the survey can be viewed on the project website, www.lowryavenuebridge .com.
Jacob Bronder’s number is 612-596-0372. Mark Stenglein’s number is 612-348-7882, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.