Long Meadow Bridge in Bloomington, Minnesota

Side view of the Long Meadow Bridge and plane enroute to the Twin Cities International Airport. Photo taken in August 2011

Inspite the number of historic bridges being demolished or wiped away because of natural disasters, there are a few bright spots to consider. The Long Meadow Bridge in Bloomington, MN is one of them.  Spanning the Long Meadow Lake arm of the Minnesota carrying Old Cedar Avenue, this 1920 structure, featuring five riveted Parker through truss spans with M-frame portal bracings has had a long history in itself. The current structure is the second crossing at this site where a major thoroughway used to exist. Originally connecting Minneapolis with the southern suburbs of Apple Valley, Bloomington and other smaller towns, Cedar Avenue used to be a major throughway back in the times where freeways did not even exist, with three major bridges carrying the major highway- Tenth Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, the Minnesota River Swing Bridge, and this one, located just to the north of the Swing Bridge. The Swing Bridge and this bridge were built at the same time in 1890, with the latter featuring trestle approaches a possibily a swing span as its main span. Evidence of this can be found in pictures, as shown by John Weeks, who has visited this bridge many times (click here for pictures).  Yet for some reason, be it lack of boat traffic or flooding, the swing span and trestles at Long Meadow Lake were replaced with a series of fixed spans in 1920, which has not been altered since then.  Both bridges served traffic crossing the island and providing access between the southern suburbs, the International Airport and downtown Minneapolis. This was until the bridges were rendered useless with the construction of the tied arch bridges in 1979, and Cedar Avenue (which had become Hwy. 77 in 1949) was rerouted to this freeway bridge. Sections of Cedar Avenue were eventually either rerouted or cut off with the construction of the Hwy. 62 Crosstown and I-494 Freeways, while the swing span over the Minnesota River was torn down shortly after the opening of the Hwy. 77 Bridge in 1980. Yet the Long Meadow Lake Bridge continued to serve traffic until it was deemed unsafe and was closed to cars in 1993 and later to all pedestrians and cyclists in 2002, fencing it off and removing 30 feet of decking on each side of the bridge. Despite the construction of a pedestrian bridge south of the bridge over the Minnesota River, there has not been any access to the airport, Mall of America (built in 1991) and the rest of the Twin Cities from the south.

But that is about to change!

For years, officials from several aspects of government, including the City of Bloomington, the National Park Service, the National Wildlife Preserve, and the state government have been wrestling over the future of the bridge, with the majority of the Bloomington City Council wanting to see the bridge torn down and replaced with a berm or a new crossing, and the federal agencies wanting the bridge to be kept as it is part of the national wildlife refuge which includes 35 miles of wildlife along the Minnesota River starting at Ft. Snelling State Park south of St.Paul. With the fight lingering, it seemed that there would be no end in site, and the bridge would eventually become part of naturing, decaying slowly but surely.

But recent decisions made this month has given the Long Meadow Bridge new life. This is thanks to Representative Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, who had been fighting to provide funding for the reconstruction of the structure. How she successfully accomplish this task though required some clever thinking and some support from House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL- Minneapolis and Governor Mark Dayton, DFL. The scoop: The Mall of America. Built in 1991 as the largest mall in the country at that time, officials wanted to expand the facility to include more shopping, lodging, gambling and parking possibilities, a project worth over $1.5 billion.  State legislators on 22 May agreed on a proposal to provide $250 million towards the project and additional $9 million for the bridge. There was a catch though, which was no cent would be spent unless the City of Bloomington agreed to reconstruct the bridge.  While the city breathed a sign a relief that funding is available and were very forthcoming on the proposal, they had another catch to the plan: officials cannot tear down and replace the bridge!

10 days ago, the Long Meadow Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its association with the type of bridge used during the 1920s, when the era of standardized truss bridges with riveted connections and heavy steel to accomodate traffic was in full motion. It was also part of the history of the Old Cedar Avenue and for many residents, the history of Bloomington itself.  With its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge will receive new life as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge as it will undergo extensive rennovation to reopen the important link between the southern suburbs and the airport and the Twin Cities.

How this bridge will be rehabilitated remains unclear. Judging by the author’s visit in 2011, combined with inspections done by the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation, the major problems contractors will be facing will be the decking portion of the bridge, as many floorbeams and cross beams have corroded away to a point of irreparability and will have to be replaced. Yet if lessons are learned from three other examples, the Merriam Street, Washington Avenue and 4th Avenue Bridges, it is most likely that the Long Meadow Bridge may be set into a concrete bridge, which will function as the main bridge with the truss bridge being the ornament. On the other hand, if wood decking is needed, than new steel beams will be needed to support the deck and to function as a standing structure.  The superstructure itself appears to be in great condition despite the rust but will most likely be repainted so that it is protected against weather extremities. While it is unclear what the condition of the piers are, learning the lessons from the collapse of a railroad bridge in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) because of flooding, it is most likely that they will have to be inspected for scouring and be reinforced and or replaced.  And lastly, the old highway will need to be cleared of downed trees and other vegetation which had taken over since 2002. The road does not necessarily need to be replaced  as it still retains its historic character, yet some touch-ups will be needed to ensure that safety and aesthetics go together like bread and butter.

The hill will be steep to climb regarding rehabilitating the bridge, but one can use $9 million wisely to make the bridge what it was before it was closed to all traffic and return the bridge to its original form- as a piece of history connecting three key points. Thanks to Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, the wish of restoring the bridge and opening it up again will become a reality. The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles will keep you posted on the latest on this bridge.

Photos:

Photo taken in August 2011

Ariel view of the Cedar Avenue Bridge taken in 1968 by MnDOT. The expressway bridge built 600 feet south of the bridge was built 10 years later.

 

Cedar Avenue Swing Bridge over the Minnesota River built south of the Long Meadow Bridge. Portal view of the bridge photographed by MnDOT

Oblique view of the Cedar Avenue Swing Bridge over the Minnesota River in an open formation. Photo taken by MnDOT

You can see a gallery with photos taken of the bridge by the author with some details and explanations here.

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