Three bridges coming back in service, safer and subsidized

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Minneapolis, the national poster child for bridge failure since the deadly 2007 collapse of the I-35W span over the Mississippi River, is celebrating three bridge reopenings this month. All three projects were initiated after the 35W disaster killed 13 and injured 145.

On Monday alone, the repaired Plymouth Avenue bridge over the Mississippi and the rebuilt Lyndale Avenue bridge over Minnehaha Creek and Parkway were reopened to traffic.

On Oct. 27, the all-new Lowry Avenue bridge over the Mississippi will debut with high school marching bands, a parade and a water ski performance by the Twin Cities River Rats.

The Lowry span has been closed since April 2008, when century-old wooden piers on which it stood were found to be tilting dangerously. The old steel-truss superstructure was demolished in June 2009 to make way for an $80 million cable-stayed bridge that will reconnect a major Hennepin County road link between the city’s north and northeast neighborhoods.

Watch the demolition video, which originally ran on MN2020 in June, 2009.

Hennepin County also rebuilt the Lyndale bridge, replacing an 1892 stone-arch span that was rated 29.3 on a scale of 100. Anything below 50 is considered structurally deficient. Traffic had to be detoured since January. The new bridge is part of a $9 million reconstruction of Lyndale, AKA County Rd. 22, from Minnehaha Parkway to 56th Street.

The Plymouth bridge, a City of Minneapolis asset that opened in 1983, had to be closed to motor vehicles in October 2010 when inspectors discovered deteriorated concrete and cables in the span’s box girders. Repairs will cost $6 million. For now, only two lanes of the four-lane span that carried 14,000 vehicles a day will be reopened and work will continue next year.

As with all the rest of Minnesota’s thousands of road bridges, none of the three new spans will charge drivers tolls. Most of the $95 million in total costs comes from non-user sources, including city and county property taxes, state bonding and federal stimulus funds. Small portions tap the 38 percent of highway fuel taxes dedicated to county roads (29 percent) and major city streets (9 percent).

These three projects are vital for the safety, efficiency and connectivity of the street grid in Minnesota’s largest city. But it’s worth remembering that transit and intercity passenger trains aren’t the only form of transportation that is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, whether they use the facilities or not.