Citizens weigh in on new I-35W bridge

Arvonne Fraser, president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, has stopped often on her daily walks across the 10th Avenue bridge to watch the work being done at the site of the I-35W bridge collapse. Fraser has been pleased with MnDOT’s response to the neighborhood’s suggestions about the reconstruction.

Photo by Jeremy Stratton

Some neighborhood suggestions are reflected in design plans

Editor’s note: The following story, from the cover of our November issue, is one of several 35W bridge-related stories we will be featuring in the next week. Watch for further coverage and, for information about MnDOT’s rebuilding project — including design plans and how to send comments — visit www.dot.state.mn.us.

One hundred thirty-eight years ago, Minneapolis citizens rushed to fill the void created by the collapse of William Eastman’s tunnel under St. Anthony Falls. They tossed wood and stone into a swirling vortex that threatened to swallow the river and their livelihoods with it.

Minneapolis citizens have again rushed to fill a void created by a collapse near the falls. This time it’s the I-35W bridge collapse, and instead of wood and stone, citizens are tossing out ideas — and a few demands. Before and after the state’s announcement in October of the winning bid and design to replace the freeway bridge, neighborhood organizations, local government and other groups have weighed in on what they’d like to see.

In September, the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) sent a four-page packet to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, “strongly urging” MnDOT to follow a series of neighborhood guidelines when considering the design of the new bridge.

Arvonne Fraser, president of the MHNA, reminded MnDOT in the packet’s cover letter that “the I-35W bridge does not simply pass through, pass over and pass by. How it affects the fabric of our neighborhoods and city is essential.”

Interviewed last month, Fraser said she is pleased that MnDOT has made frequent reference to the MHNA master plan.
First on Marcy-Holmes’ list of suggestions: keep Southeast Second Street open as a neighborhood street, and MnDOT has reversed initial plans to shorten the new bridge’s span by closing Second Street where it passes under I-35W on the east bank.

Paramount, as well, is maintaining access to the river and allowing for roads and other future pathways under the bridge — “not to cut the neighborhood apart,” as Fraser put it. Besides Southeast Second Street, that includes plans to link Southeast Main Street to East River Parkway, and connections to roads such as Kasota Avenue in the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial (SEMI) area.

One element of the new design that Fraser said “kind of disturbed me” was the possibility of a future pedestrian and bicycle river crossing running underneath the freeway bridge. She is pleased that the bridge reconstruction will include a different 80-foot strip beneath the bridge on the east bank for a bikeway and pedestrians, and she said the idea resurfaced from the time of the interstate’s initial construction to build a public park over the freeway between Southeast Sixth and Seventh streets. That concept is one of several neighborhood suggestions not part of the reconstruction plan, but it represents the kind of rift-healing Fraser said she would like to see. If built, it would be a long-overdue replacement for parkland lost to the freeway trench, she said.

Other nearby neighborhoods have joined Marcy-Holmes to weigh in on bridge-related traffic changes, such as detours and proposed exits ramps.

The Beltrami and Nicollet Island/ East Bank neighborhood associations voiced opposition to new exit ramps from I-35W planned as part of the bridge replacement project. The ramps, which would funnel Downtown-bound freeway traffic onto residential streets and through the constricted East Hennepin-Central Avenue business district, have since disappeared from MnDOT’s plans.

Reacting to another offshoot effect of the bridge collapse, Prospect Park/East River Road Improvement Association Livability Committee Chair Joe Ring said he would ask MnDOT to acknowledge that two lanes added to I-94 for traffic detoured from I-35W amount to a permanent, not temporary, widening. Such an expansion of use, Ring hopes, could trigger construction of long-sought freeway walls on the south side of I-94.

MnDOT has heard from other groups, in addition to neighborhood associations, through open houses, meetings and public comments. MnDOT officials have promised that community input — much of it collected online or during a series of open houses in recent weeks — will be relayed to the design team and considered during the ongoing “design/build” process of planning and constructing the replacement bridge.

Among the public’s concerns — especially those who live nearest to the bridge — has been aesthetics, said one MnDOT planner. Aesthetics got a 20 percent consideration as part of the initial bidding process.

MnDOT formed a 10-person Visual Quality Team composed of representatives from the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Friends of the Mississippi River, the National Park Service, the State Historical Preservation Office, and other groups. That team issued a list of “visual quality recommendations” that include:

• Designing with elegant simplicity and fluid lines;

• Respect for, not imitation of, the historic and natural setting;

• Complementing the 10th Avenue bridge and St. Anthony Falls Historic District;

• Consideration of the bridge’s appearance from many nearby neighborhood vantage points;

• Using accent lighting for nighttime aesthetics; and

• Providing a clear sense of crossing the Mississippi River.

MnDOT presented design plans for, and took comments on, the new bridge at the MHNA’s October board meeting and was expected to hold a similar meeting for the new bridge on Oct. 24 (as The Bridge went to press), at which nearby neighborhoods would be among the stakeholders represented.

last revised: October 30, 2007