The complex and uncertain future for a once prominent bridge that funneled traffic through the Minnesota River valley isn’t any closer to being clarified, but Bloomington officials have an idea of how to get there.
The first step, the Bloomington City Council agreed, is to determine if the bridge can be torn down.
Closed to pedestrian uses since 2002, the bridge remains standing as a nearly-century-old testament to a simpler time. With funds available to replace the bridge – at a lower cost than is estimated to rehabilitate and maintain the existing structure – the city will seek a determination on the feasibility of building anew, according to Karl Keel, the city’s public works director.
The shift in priorities halts discussions between the city and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the river corridor. The city and federal agency have discussed possible scenarios that would result in the city turning over the bridge it inherited in 1981. As part of a possible ownership transfer it is assumed the city will rehabilitate or replace the bridge. The Fish and Wildlife Service would prefer renovation of the existing bridge, Keel noted.
Determining if the bridge can be torn down and replaced requires federal approval because of the possible environmental impacts of such a project, according to Keel. The federal review will consider the impacts on flooding and protected species within the river valley as well as historical considerations. The historical significance of the bridge – in relation to the costs of rehabilitating and maintaining it – is factored into determining if it may be removed and that’s the key question that needs to be answered, according to Keel.
The city’s estimate for replacing the bridge is pegged at $4.3 million, including ongoing maintenance. Rehabilitation and ongoing maintenance of the bridge would cost an estimated $12 million.
As the city pursues a federal ruling on removal of the bridge, the state legislature will consider funding up to $7 million for renovation or replacement of the bridge through bonding, as proposed by Bloomington Rep. Ann Lenczewski.
If rehabilitation ends up being the solution, “we’d try harder to find a new owner under that scenario,” Keel said.
Regardless of the options and funding that may be available for the bridge, obtaining an environmental ruling on the bridge is a step toward a solution, according to Keel.
“We’re trying to move the ball forward,” he said.
Built in 1920, the Long Meadow Lake Bridge was one of two bridges that spanned the river valley until the Highway 77 overpass opened in 1981. The swing bridge that crossed the river was removed in conjunction with the opening of the overpass. A pedestrian bridge underneath the overpass spans the river but leaves pedestrians with no immediate access to Bloomington without an open bridge across the lake.
To read more about the bridge visit bit.ly/2013bridge.
Contact Mike Hanks at [email protected]