How’s the new Lowry Bridge holding up?


Jim Grube doesn’t drive a snowplow, but he might wish he’d had that experience as he takes responsibility for the 11 missing street light poles on the Lowry Avenue Bridge.

When they designed the bridge deck, Grube, the Hennepin County engineer said, they included a “Wyoming rail barrier” guardrail to stop any errant cars from leaving the road, and then placed the lights behind it, closer to the road than they would have if there were no rail. What they didn’t anticipate was that when a snowplow scrapes up to the curb, the flare of the blade can catch a light pole – or in this case, seven on the north edge and four on the south.

The blade shape is what funnels the snow and throws it far, allowing the truck to keep cruising. But it rides up over the guardrail. Now, plow drivers have been instructed not to plow all the way to the curb.

New poles have been ordered totaling $18,000, the wires and lamps were saved, and by two months from now, the street lights will be back in service. Grube said it would not be safe to simply try to pound out the dents as most of the poles’ weight would focus pressure on the weak spots. In a high wind the lights could buckle onto passing traffic.

While the poles were custom-designed to complement the “deflect angle” of the basket handle arches, it’s pretty easy for their vendor to make replacements, Grube said. “The steel is the cost.”

But wasn’t the bridge supposed to have an anti-icing system? That wouldn’t necessarily mean there would be no need for plows, but Grube said that’s a bridge feature that’ll wait until next spring. When they designed the bridge, they specified anti-icing control systems that, while available, would not have technical support if something went wrong, Grube said.

“We’ve known that since last year, and it’s taken until this January 1 to determine that we would go with the new system” that the manufacturer recommended substituting for the one originally chosen. Meanwhile, road crews have stayed away from using rock salt and other corrosive substances, but have been applying an anti-icing liquid ahead of storms.

Workers were painting and doing other finishing touches right up to the bridge opening Oct. 27; did anything else not get done? There’s some work remaining on a pond area on the west side under the bridge.

Why are the big concrete anchors at the basket handle ends looking splotchy? They did not neglect to paint them, Grube said, it’s a reaction that’s happening as the concrete ages behind a transparent graffiti-resistant coating. They think it will even itself out, clear up like a teenager outgrowing acne. “Knock on wood, we have not had any tagging.”

While it’s impractical to count traffic in winter, Grube said that with Lowry and Plymouth bridges now open the traffic on Broadway is “finally where it wants to be.” There’ve been no comments or complaints from businesses, and no accidents on the new Lowry Bridge, he said, even with the surprise quick lane change on one end, and curve on the other.

“That curve (on the North Minneapolis end) made the alignment work,” Grube said. “There was a kink in the old bridge, you could see it from the aerial view, quite pronounced.” The basket handle had to be straight. “We moved everything to the south to make it all work. There was less impact on the south on both sides,” for the wider, straighter bridge.

The Lowry basket handle is catching the fancy of many residents for more than its driving convenience. It was on national television during a recent Packers-Vikings game, showing its LED-powered Vikings colors. While the bridge usually shines at night in “Hennepin County Blue” many color combinations are possible, and they’ll be talking about the calendar what should qualify for various special displays.