Midtown Greenway bridge: There's a better, greener way [archived]

Please note: This is an archived article from 2007 regarding the building of an entirely new bridge. Since, FMR, community groups and greenway advocates have come together to successfully fund an engineering study that supports re-use of the existing railroad bridge. (See our 2017 letter of support.) Questions or concerns? Please contact FMR River Corridor Program Director Colleen O'Connor Toberman, ctoberman@fmr.org.

[Manipulated photo: Rendering of the proposed Greenway Bridge in the Mississippi River Gorge.]

This image shows how the proposed Greenway Bridge over the Mississippi River Gorge would appear from downsteam.

Hennepin County officials have proposed spending up to $12 million in public funds to construct a new bridge across the Mississippi in Minneapolis to help link the Midtown Greenway bicycle route in Minneapolis to Saint Paul. Although FMR is ordinarily a strong supporter of trails and parkland in and along the Mississippi River corridor, we oppose the bridge. Here's why and how you can help.

The proposal

The Hennepin County Board recently authorized staff to apply for federal funds to help construct a new bridge across the Mississippi River gorge that would extend the Midtown Greenway bicycle pedestrian trail toward Saint Paul. Although the county has reportedly assembled about $3 million in federal transportation funding toward the estimated $12 million cost of the new bicycle and pedestrian span, these funds are at risk because they will expire in 2008.

The bridge would be built about 300 feet south of the existing Short Line overpass owned by Canadian Pacific Railway between the Franklin Avenue and Lake Street/Marshall Avenue bridges. This alignment would be in close proximity to the historic Meeker Island lock and dam and the well-known white sands beach just north of Lake Street.

Why is FMR opposed to the new bridge?

Although FMR is ordinarily a strong supporter of trails and parkland in and along the Mississippi River corridor, we are opposing the proposed new bridge because:

• It would disrupt the scenic values of the only true gorge along the 2,300-mile length of the Mississippi.

• The proposed bridge, especially the tall towers at each end, would create a visual obstruction to views of the gorge from the bluffs, the water and the Lake Street Bridge. This aesthetic impact is significant. Traveling south from the Franklin Avenue Bridge, paddlers, bikers and hikers encounter a one-of-a-kind natural and cultural wonder. From the water, one can easily forget that the gorge runs through the heart of the biggest city in Minnesota.

• It could interfere with wildlife, especially birds that pass along the river during migration. Over 150 species of birds have been documented in the gorge. Tall towers especially can affect them, particularly during migration, when the river corridor is used by 40% of North American waterfowl and 60% of all North American bird species.

• It would interfere with historic resources.
The Meeker Island lock and dam ruins, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are located at the site of the proposed bridge. The first lock and dam built on the Mississippi, the Meeker Ruins offer an important way to interpret significant local, regional and national history. A new trail and riverside park in St. Paul that will celebrate the ruins is near completion. The new bridge could significantly undermine the visual experience and historic context intended for visitors to the new park.

• It would be an inefficient use of $12 million of taxpayer money.
The cost of the bridge is almost half as much as the total cost of the rest of the Midtown Greenway itself to date. In a time of limited government funds, other needs and opportunities for bicycle and pedestrian trails in Minneapolis should command a higher priority, including some much needed bike and pedestrian trails north of downtown along the river.

• Alternatives that would accomplish the same objective have not been adequately explored.
Most importantly, Hennepin County has not formally requested the cooperation of the Canadian Pacific Railway in securing the use of the existing railroad bridge on the trails alignment. This far less expensive alternative, if successfully pursued, would use an existing river crossing.

• The existing detour required of pedestrians and bicyclists is a minor inconvenience.
Trail users currently cross the river at either the Franklin or Marshall/Lake bridges only half a mile away. Except for commuters with destinations directly across the river, savings in time and mileage are not significant. This is one of the reasons the new bridge project hasn't been able to win funding when competing with other more critical bike and pedestrian projects. The existing public bridges have served hikers and bikers for generations. A new bridge is just not needed.

• The proposal has not involved serious consultation with citizens and organizations concerned about the river and gorge.
Only in spring 2007 did FMR and many other interested parties even learn about planning and development of the proposed bridge. Besides the public itself, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the National Park Service and other parties should have been asked for their views far earlier in the process. FMR only learned of the proposal when members called us to ask about crews doing surveying and soil borings in the park.

What are the alternatives to the new bridge?

The chief alternative is the use of the existing Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge. To use the bridge, Hennepin County must negotiate and purchase an easement on the bridge. Although the county claims that the more than 100-year-old bridge has an outdated design and could raise safety concerns, county officials have not explained how the existing use of the bridge as a train crossing is not a safety issue.

Who's opposing the new bridge?

In addition to FMR, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the U.S. National Park Service located in the Twin Cities, is formally opposing the new bridge as an intrusion on the scenic, natural and historic values of the river gorge.

What are others saying about the new bridge?

The City of Saint Paul is neither opposing nor supporting the bridge, even though Hennepin County is arguing for the bridge as a link to future bike corridors in Saint Paul.

Transit for Livable Communities, which administers federal grant funds for transportation alternatives, says other proposed bicycling and walking projects in the metro region would give more bang for your buck.

How can I help stop the new river bridge?

At the present time, Hennepin County has put the project on hold due to a lack of viable funding options. If and when this proposal returns, we will need citizens working alongside FMR to ensure that the existing crossing is the only option considered for a new bikeway.

More information

Plan for new bridge across Mississippi is put on hold — Star Tribune, 27 June 2007

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