The Rock Island Swing Bridge (JAR Bridge)

October 15, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Posted in Abandoned Highways | Leave a comment
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Although locally called the “Newport” bridge, it is actually between Inver Grove Heights and South St. Paul. The freeway bridge nearby, the pre-interstate Wakota Bridge, is one of the worst bottlenecks in the metro area, so many locals gladly paid 75 cents to bypass it. It used to be the only bridge between downtown St. Paul and Hastings, and was the original routing of the first Twin Cities beltway; MN 100.

This is a two level bridge, with a railroad on top, and a roadway on bottom, built in 1895. Rail service was discontinued in 1980, and the bridge was sold to a Joan and Allan Roman of Chicagoland; special legislation was needed to allow a private toll bridge in the state.

In 1999, this bridge was declared unsafe due to a bad, and was closed down since the owners didn’t have money to rehabilitate it. The bridge passed into Washington County ownership due to tax forfeit in 2003, and the county has no interest in restoring or rebuilding it, which could cost  $10,000,000. Additionally it was damaged in a fire in 2005, and there are navigational and “Homeland Security” issues due to the proximity of an oil refinery.


John Dillinger Fled Here: The auto deck back in the day. Minnesota Historical Society


Abandoned and vandalized toll House. Back in the day a car cost 20 cents, a sheep cost 3 cents. The final toll rate was 75 cents for a car, no official rate for a sheep. 

Abandoned Toll House. Back in the day a car cost 20 cents, a sheep cost 3 cents The final toll rate was 75 cents

With demands from the Coast Guard for removal as a navigational hazard, the National Park Service held a tour in fall of 2008 to build support for rehabilitation in whole or in part.


Waiting in Line to get on the bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour

On the Bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour

The end of the bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour

Swing Span

Rock Island Swing Bridge / JAR Bridge 2008 tour


However, later than winter a portion of the eastern span collapsed into the river. Demolition of the remainder of the swing span and the eastern span began that winter, however in 2009 a two year moratorium was placed on demolishing the west span. Plans began to come together to save 2, 4, or 5 of the western segments. What eventually resulted was four of the fiver remaining piers were saved, the best two of the old steel spans were restored while a modern steel replacement on the existing piers was installed to bridge the gap between the shore and the old span.

Rock Island Swing Bridge

Plaque by the bridge

Rock Island Swing Bridge

New Span leading to the old span


Benches at the end of the old span

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The Holmes Street Bridge

October 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Abandoned Highways | Leave a comment

The Holmes Street Bridge is a historic deck truss bridge with classical revival detailing built in 1927 to carry what was then US 169 across the river at Shakopee. After a new bridge was built in the 1980s it was used as a pedestrian structure. It was restored in 2011, and in 2015 connected to the trail network on the north side of the river when the highway bridge to the north was rebuilt as part of a flood mitigation effort.


The bridge shortly after it was built. Minnesota Historical Society


The bridge sitting vacant and unrestored


View of the deck


North End of the Bridge

Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee


Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee


Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee

The deck after restoration

Holmes Street Bridge, Shakopee

Railing and new bridge


Underneath the Bridge


Fake History metal halide lights.

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Abandoned Highways

October 14, 2016 at 1:36 am | Posted in Abandoned Highways | Leave a comment

I’ve always had a fascination with abandoned infrastructure, and this was always one of the most popular pages on the old North Star Highways site, so I’m obviously not alone. Here are some abandoned highways I’ve discovered in my travels.

Original Concrete Roadways

The first two pictures are from various sections of US 52 between Rochester and the Twin Cities. US 52 has always been an important road. It was paved early on, abeit with extremely narrow lanes (9 foot) by todays standards,  and then some of these original sections were bypassed when the expressway was built. These sections were left to provide local access. In the top photo, you used to be able to drive farther, but the snow fence has since gone up, as nothing is beyond. Also note the modern highway in both photos, epecially viable in the second.

The third photo shows pavement being laid down. The Minnesota Historical Society doesn’t seem to know where it was taken, but it could well be US 52 because this is definately the southern or central part of the state


Minnesota Historical Society

Old MN 56, Lake Louise State Park

Many early state highways were routed on existing section line roads before more direct routes (often paralleling railroad tracks) were built. This is a section of MN 56 near LeRoy. Many years after the highway was routed off this road, the surrounding area was incorperated into Lake Louise State Park

Today the old road serves primarly as a hiking trail. The grading is still very visable, as are remnents of asphalt, which probably date from after it became a local road. A short section of the road, including an iron bridge, was recycled into an entrance road for the park

Part of the road now serves as the Shooting Star State Trail

Abandoned Bloomington Ferry Bridge Approach Road

In the 1990’s the Bloomington Ferry Bridge was replaced by a freeway, but before that could happen the existing approach road had to be reconstructed to keep it out of the way of the new interchange with MN 13 in order to maintain traffic. The result is an abandoned highway still in pristine condition. The original signs were originally left in place, but most of them have since been stolen

The whole area is in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Closer to the river, the old road was removed except for a narrow strip used as a bike trail, but farther away in this photo it was left as-is. It’s closed off by a lockable gate, still used by wildlife refuge employees, and it has been opened to allow hunters to access the area at least once.

As for the old bridge itself, it was originally going to be maintained as a bicycle crossing, but projected mainenance costs were too high, and so it was demolished and replaced with a new bicycle bridge


Abandoned Lookout Park Wayside

Lookout Park was an old highway wayside on what was then US 169 and US 212 in what is now Eden Prairie. Built in 1938, it is now owned by the Metro Airports Commission. Unfortunately it is in a state of disrepair. Note the crumbling stonework where a plaque used to be. The park made the Minnesota Preservation Alliances list of the 10 most endangered properties of 2001.

Right now no one seems to know what to do with it. It’s historic, so you can’t just sell it to a developer. The Metro Airports Commission certainly has no use for it. It’s no longer on a trunk highway, it’s too remote for a local neighborhood park and too small for a more regionally oriented park.

Abandoned US 61

In an almost perpetual project, Mn/DOT has been reconstructing the famous MN 61, turning a scenic and dangerous road into a dull and safe one. The new alignment is generally more inland than the old, up to a block father. In  the process, some of the old road has been left for local access, but most has been simply removed.

There is a long term plan for a bicycle trail along the North Shore Drive, and much of the routing will be over the abandoned stretches of the highway. Although some history will be lost, more will be preserved as this provides a place to move a 130 year old bridge presently near Silverdale. The bridge, probably the oldest on the trunk highway system, will be moved under a seperate 1.5 million dollar contract once the new bridge is complete


Old US 61 near Silver Bay, In the Background you can see work beginning on the Gitchi-Gummi Bicycle Trail


Section of the North Shore Drive by Silver Creek Cliff, probably from the ’40s to ’50s. This section epitomized what was right and wrong with the old road, in that it was spectacularly scenic, but also became dangerous with higher traffic and increased speeds in later years. When it came time to rebuild the road away from the lake, there was no place to go but into the rocks, and so they blasted the Silver Creek Cliff Tunnel, which is spectacular in it’s own way.

Point Douglas-Superior Military Road

The Point Douglas (near Prescott Wisconsin)- Superior Military Road was authorized in the July 18, 1850 Minnesota Roads Act, and completed by 1856. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Portions survive as a trail (it was used as a logging road in later years) in Wild River State Park, and as “Military Road” in the western Twin Cities area.


Abandoned Wayside

Minnesota highways pass through many scenic areas of the state, and in the early years the Department of Highways would build parking areas along side of the road for travelers to pull off and enjoy their surroundings. Unfortunately many of them have been closed do to budget tightening, safety problems associated with exploding traffic volumes, and being engulfed by the metro area.

This Wayside is on US 8 by Interstate State Park. Besides the nightmarish traffic levels on the road, possibly another factor in the closing is that the DNR didn’t like people being able to park for free and then walk into the park



Minnesota Historical Society

Abandoned MN 243


A section of Abandoned MN 43

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Abandoned Bridges

October 14, 2016 at 1:33 am | Posted in Abandoned Highways | Leave a comment
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Redwood River Bridge

Here is an old concrete arch bridge over the Redwood River at the city of Redwood Falls. The new bridge dates to about 1950, so this bridge has obviously been abandoned for some time. It was fenced of when I took these photos and has now been demolished.

Abandoned Redwood River Bridge

Looking west through the chain link fence. Notice the new bridge in the background on the left. Unfortunately I had loaded 800 speed film in my camera in anticipation of another project, so the contrast and grain in these pictures is more than I would have liked.

Abandoned Redwood River Bridge

Profile of the bridge, looking north from the old bridge. Note the crumbling pipes underneath.

Abandoned Redwood River Bridge

The bridge as it looked on a 1918 postcard, from a much lower angle. Minnesota Historical Society


Waterfall by the bridge. Note the girls near the top for scale

Abandoned US 12 Bridge

I found this old bridge a little west of Wilmar. A new overpass was built over both the creek and the railroad (note the passing train), and this one was left, perhaps for the benefit of  railroad maintenance crew. The pavement is intact, but you have to drive down a dirt driveway to get to it from the main road. As you can see, you can still drive over the bridge, but I decided not to do it since I had no idea what kind of live load it could support.

The guardrails neatly covered the date markers, but according to Adam Froehlig, the original bridge was constructed in 1924, then widened in 1930 when the road was paved.

Abandoned US 12 Bridge

Looking East. Note the train on the left

Abandoned US 12 Bridge

Profile View

Walnut Street Bridge, Mazeppa

The Walnut Street Bridge in Mazeppa was built in 1904, and has been “abandoned” for eighty years, being used as a pedestrain bridge since 1922. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.


Walnut Street Bridge


Walnut Street Bridge, Profile View

Zumbrota Covered Bridge

Originally built in 1869, this covered bridge is the last one in Minnesota. It originally served the stagecoach road between St. Paul and Dubuque. When a new highway bridge was built in 1932, the bridge was moved to the fairgrounds, then in 1970 to a park near the original location. Poor condition and lack of funds prevented it from being moved to the river at that time.

Finally in 1997, the bridge was moved to again span the river, this time one block west of the highway bridge, and connects the downtown area to the park as a pedestrian / bicycle crossing. To strengthen the bridge and allow it to span the river, steel beams and a concrete pier were added underneath.

In June 1998 the worst flood in memory hit Zumbrota. The waters crested about six inches below the base of the bridge, and completely inundated the park. Had the bridge been left at it’s original location it probably would have been destroyed as was another historic structure in the park.

Zumbrota Covered Bridge

Profile of the bridge today. The concrete pier is not original to the design.


The bridge in 1933, right after it was moved. Note the bridge is painted white at this time. Originally it was painted red for the same reason barns were- red paint was easy to make. The bridge was painted red again when it was moved to the fairgrounds in 1970. Minnesota Historical Society

Zumbrota Covered Bridge

Looking North Across The River



A view of the bridge looking south, about 1910. Note that someone scrawled “#58S” on the picture at some point. After 1920 and ever since this highway has been MN 58. Another image, which I have not included, labels it the “old bridge” even back in 1914! Minnesota Historical Society


Another view, from about 1930, also looking south. Note the old-style star-in-a-circle highway marker just above the fender of the car. Minnesota Historical Society





Normandale Bridge

Between Savage and Bloomington there used to be a one lane highway bridge along with the railroad swing bridge. It was originally part of the trunk highway system until the Shakopee Bridge was built in the late 1920s.

It remanded under local control until it was closed in the early 1980s. It was clear it could not handle modern traffic volumes, and there were several accidents at the queue on the Bloomington side, where the descent down the bluff and the foliage made it difficult to see the stopped traffic ahead.

With the horrific congestion problem on the I-35W and Bloomington Ferry Bridges, Scott County has recently made noises about wanting the bridge reopened. Bloomington is not thrilled with the idea and nothing has become of it.

Normandale Bridge

A closeup of the bridge looking south. The railroad bridge is on the right, and on the left you can see where they highway bridge used to by the extra space on the beam.


A profile view of the area (along with a passing barge), looking west.


The end of the pavement, which is barricaded about 100 yards behind. This is looking south.

Hudson Toll Bridge

The Hudson Toll Bridge between Hudson and Minnesota was built in 1911.  After a new bridge (which was incorportated into the interstate system and lasted until the 1990s) was built south of here in 1951, the high bridge was demolished. The causeway and a low level fixed span remained, becoming a park.


This archway formerly welcomed motorists to Hudson. Notice the decent condition of the 75 year old concrete.


Near the end of the causeway, at the wide spot where the toll house used to be, is a public beach. Had this been a summer weekend there would have been a lot more people here.


Beyond the beach, all that is left of the old bridge is these concrete piers.


Overview of the causeway from the Wisconsin shore, looking southwest. You can see the extant fixed span on through the tree on the left, and the beach at the right. The Minnesota shore is in the background, and it blends in with the trees on the causeway, giving it the illusion of going all the way across.


The bridge as it looked in 1917. Note the toll house where the bridge meets the causeway at right. Minnesota Historical Society


The toll house, sometime between 1925 and 1935. Minnesota Historical Society

MN 43 Ghost Bridge

Back in the 1980’s, Mn/DOT planned to widen MN 43 to 4 lanes between I-90 and Winona, but the grading and this bridge were all they got done of the new northbound lanes. In the meantime the ghost grade and bridge make a dandy snowmobile and ATV trail.


Never used MN 43 Bridge

Duluth Interstate Bridge

The older of the two bridges was the Interstate Bridge. In 1959 the Duluth-Superior “High” Bridge opened, and the Interstate Bridge closed at that time. Soaring 120 feet above the harbor and 8000 feet long, the Duluth-Superior Bridge cost 20 million dollars, then the largest single project partly in Minnesota. On Sept 24, 1971, the new bridge was named to honor John A. Blatnik, congressman for 30 years and one of the persons instrumental in preserving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and a major sponsor of the Interstate highway program

Interstate Bridge at Duluth

Interstate Bridge, under deck

Interestate Bridge at Duluth

Interstate Bridge, profile view

Arrowhead Bridge, Duluth

The other bridge in between Duluth and Superior was built later and lasted longer. The Arrowhead Bridge was built in the late 1920s, a bit south of the Interstate Bridge. Also a toll bridge, it carried US 2. The bridge was named after the Arrowhead Region, which had just aquired it’s name in a contest sponsored by a local tourist board. (This was about the time the automobile made tourism to the area a possiblity, and they needed a catchy name. They realized that the iron would soon be gone, but tourism could last forerver).

In 1985, the Richard Bong bridge was built about a mile north of here, and the Arrowhead bridge was closed and removed. Besides being at 8300 feet the longest bridge partially in the state, it was the last tied arch bridge to be built here.

Bong was a famous WWII flying ace from Superior, who shot down 40 enemy airplanes (The Red Baron’s tally was 26) before being killed in 1945 when a jet fighter he was testing malfunctioned.

Today not much is left of the Arrowhead Bridge, just a short stub used as a fishing pier on the Wisconsin side. Part of the Lesure Street Causeway, the approach road on the Minnesota side, was removed as part of a wetlands reclamation effort.


Arrowhead Bridge, Duluth


Vintage Postcard of the Arrowhead Bridge

Old US 2 Bridge; Bass Brook

Here’s an abandoned bridge along US 2 over Bass Brook in Cohasset. Note the railroad trestle right behind it, and that someone has built a garage blocking one end. Although there is no date on the bridge, according to Adam Froehlig highway logs show the bridge was built in 1930. The replacement bridge was likely constructed in 1969 when the stretch was widened to four lanes, then rebuilt when the road was repaved in 1983.

Abandoned Bass Brook Bridge

Abandoned Bass Brook Bridge


Abandoned Bass Brook Bridge

Big Falls Railway Trestle

Normally I limit this page to highway infrastructure, but this abandonded railroad trestle in Big Falls was too cool to pass up. After the line was abandoned by BN in the early 90’s, Mn/DOT took it over, and leases it to the DNR as a snowmobile/ATV trail. However this trestle was not reused; instead the trail goes across a nearby highway bridge


Big Falls Railway Trestle

Silverdale Bridge

The Silverdale Bridge is a wrought iron truss bridge that was built in 1890 in Sauk Centre. In 1932 it was moved to a very remote area up north, and was the last single lane bridge on the trunk highway system. There was talke about moving it to the Gitch-Gami bicycle trail near Duluth, but instead it was moved to the Gateway bicycle trail near Stillwater in 2010.

Silverdale Bridge

Silverdale Bridge, restored at it’s new home

Silverdale Bridge

Silverdale Bridge

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A New Life for the Old Cedar Bridge

October 1, 2016 at 11:52 am | Posted in Abandoned Highways, Bicycling, Bloomington and Suburbia, Bridges, Streets, and Highways | Leave a comment


[Originally Published May 2016]

The Old Cedar Bridge is now open, but it’s been a long road to get to this point. THis article takes a look at the restoration and reopening of the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge. (I’ve chosen to consistently refer to it as the “Old Cedar Bridge,” it was originally known as the “Long Meadow Bridge” to distinguish it from the river span).

Old Cedar Ave Bridge Around 2002

The Old Cedar Bridge, around 2002

Inception of the Bridge

Although the bridge was only part of the state trunk highway system for a generation, history is intertwined with it. In the old days, if you wanted to travel south from Minneapolis, you first had to travel to St. Paul, then cross the High Bridge and head out on the old Dodd Road. Then you could take a road through Farmington to Northfield to Faribault to Albert Lea that eventually became part of the Jefferson Highway and later on was designated Trunk Highway #1. Directly south of Minneapolis lay nothing but ferries (that had existed since the 1850s) and routes suitable for local travel.

It wasn’t long until demand for improvements were made. Around 1890 two new bridges were funded by the state legislature as part of a generation-long period of increasing state involvement in roads before the formal establishment of the state highway system. One bridge replaced the ferry at Bloomington Ferry Road, and one extended Cedar Avenue across the river. Although the river spans were long-lasting steel swing bridges, the original bridge over Long Meadow Lake was a rudimentary wooden trestle. These choices were not without controversy. Minneapolis business interests favored a crossing at Lyndale Avenue, the most direct route to the south. It was thought that extending Cedar Avenue would be of more benefit to St. Paul, which already had well established roads to the South, and that Bloomington Ferry was way out of the way.

During the 1910s, it became obvious that the automobile was the wave of the future for personal travel, and trucks for commerce was imminent, and demand for more and better roads continued. Although the marked auto trails system provided consistent guidance, actual maintenance fell to a labyrinthine assortment of agencies, and the maintenance was anything but consistent. Momentum grew for the state to assume maintenance of roads of statewide significance, and the Minnesota Highway Commission was formed in 1911. The state provided aid for major roads and standardized plans for bridges. In turn structures needed to meet state standards, which the Old Cedar Bridge obviously did not. In 1912 the Dunn Amendment was passed, providing for changes to the Minnesota constitution to allow a trunk highway system. In 1917 the Minnesota Department of Highways was formed with Charles M. Babcock as the first commissioner, and in 1920 the state constitution was amended. Finally in 1921 legislation was passed and the trunk highway system debuted.

With regards to the Bloomington area, two more bridges were planned as part of this ramp-up of state involvement in major highways. A crossing at Lyndale Avenue and the replacement of the wooden trestle on Cedar Avenue with today’s steel structure. World War I delayed building, but after the war plans resumed. The original plan still seemed to be that Cedar Avenue would be the main route southward from Minneapolis; my 1920 map shows a proposed road between the bridge and the existing north-south road to the High Bridge and Farmington and it was paved from Minneapolis to the new bridge.

Proposed Cutoff from Minneapolis to the main north-south highway at Farmington

But Babcock favored Lyndale Avenue, replacing an old ferry at the foot of Hopkins Road. Then focus shifted to improving the even more direct route, first with a cutoff from the bridge to Farmington (what is now County 50), then a direct route south to Faribault which became US 65 and then I-35. Here’s the trunk highway system about 1925, after all the routes that were planned were actually laid out. Route 1 was the main route north and south of the metro, with cutoffs from Minneapolis (Routes 50 and 63) which took a few years to implement leading to it.


Trunk Highway System about 1925. The Farmington Cutoff between Lyndale Avenue and the main trunk highway at Farmington had been built as Route 50, and note that the Bloomington Ferry Bridge was the main route to the southwest leaving Cedar Avenue left to local traffic.



Charles Merritt Babcock

As a side note, despite Babcock’s role in advocating and creating the trunk highway and his national profile (he was president of the American Association of Highway Officials) his career was cut short. As evidenced that almost from the beginning politicians have fancied themselves as highway engineers, Babcock was fired by Governor Floyd B. Olson for refusing to accept an absolutely massive expansion of the trunk highway system. Some of which, like MN 100 Beltline or MN 55 west of downtown, were worthy candidates. But many of which were both then and today extremely dubious inclusions for the trunk highway network. This included a portion of MN 65 through the north woods that sees and average annual daily total traffic of 30, and spurs to serve the unincorporated hamlet of Island View and a private resort on Lake of the Woods. Today, I doubt many people know or care who Babcock Trail was named after and his legacy to the state.

The Bridge Opens

In late 1920 the Old Cedar Bridge opened, at the cost of $114,940. It was Hennepin County Bridge #55, but also assigned a state bridge number, #3145. It was a maintenance nightmare from the beginning. and there were calls for its replacement as soon as 1956. Ten foot lanes may have been adequate in the early days when the only traffic was a car now and then, and semi trucks weren’t as prevalent. Early trunk highways had 9 foot lanes as standard. But even by the 1950s it was considered awkwardly narrow, and both the railing and structural elements being hit by vehicles was a regular occurrence.

Although neglected, this neglect also led to its preservation, as the old Lyndale Bridge was demolished when I-35W opened. The bridge wasn’t even part of the trunk highway system until MN 36 was extended in the mid 1950s. In 1962 the concrete deck was replaced with a wooden one. As late as 1970 there were only around 11,700 vehicles a day using it, but around that time east Bloomington approached becoming fully built out.

As the American Dream crossed the river, regional commuter traffic increase dramatically, and with the Met Stadium and the “New Zoo” there was renewed interest in improvements. Finally in 1980, what long term residents like myself still call the “New Cedar Bridge” opened. The old 1891 swing span across the river was demolished, and the Old Cedar Bridge was transferred to the City of Bloomington, against their wishes, to provide access to the river bottoms.


New Cedar Bridge Invitation

Unlike more recent turnbacks where the road was fully reconstructed, Bloomington got the well-used bridge “as-is.” They did not have the funding or wherewithal to maintain it, so it continued to deteriorate. In 1993 it was closed to motorized vehicles. With no road access, this marked the end of the river bottom farms, and they became part of the wildlife refuge through sale and tax forfeiture. Even without paved trails in the river bottoms, it was still frequently used by bicyclists and pedestrians. Then finally the Old Cedar Bridge was closed to all traffic in 2002, severing a key link for bicycles across the river.

The Bickering Begins

From then on, there was a desire to replace the connection, but the bickering went on for over a decade. Bloomington saw themselves as in the business of transportation, not historic preservation, and sought the cheapest way possible to provide that service. Bloomington has insisted it couldn’t pay for repairs; that it shouldn’t have to do it alone for what is a regional amenity; that it shouldn’t have to deal with something that will require extensive maintenance in the future.

Meanwhile, as early as 1994 there were calls for the preservation. Through-truss bridges aren’t by themselves historic (two are being demolished in the Lanesboro area this year). The Old Cedar Bridge is one of only three truss bridges in Minnesota that predate the trunk highway system, and five sections on a Parker Through-Truss design is uncommon.

Nor was the bridge designed to be aesthetic. Trusses were just the way longer bridges were built in the era of cheap, abundant steel and immature concrete technology; thinking that they look nice came later after most of them were demolished. The New Cedar Bridge (and its contemporary, the Bong Bridge) were the last ones in the area built with massive structural elements above the bridge deck that were driven by engineering needs. The steel arches on the Hastings and Lowry Avenue bridges, and the concrete towers and steel cables on the St. Croix Crossing and Hennepin Avenue Bridge are there because people liked they way they look, and they cost substantially more than a generic concrete bridge would have.

Silverdale Bridge on the Gateway Trail

Another Parker Through-Truss bridge, this one a single section from 1873, now located on the Gateway Trail. The single lane wasn’t a problem with 30 vehicles a day at its longtime location on MN 65 in the north woods at Silverdale.

The original proposal was an earthen causeway to be built in conjunction with a new gas pipeline. Fish and Wildlife said no, so from then on Bloomington pursued funding to demolish the structure and build a new one, which would have been half the cost and easier to maintain. There was a 2008 study, and a bill that would have provided money for demolition and replacement. One idea was to set the old trusses on the new bridge as decoration. Then the bridge got officially designated as historic and in 2013 the federal government made it clear that they would not allow demolition. With only one option now, Bloomington commissioned a 2014 study for rehabilitation, and thanks to longtime local Representative Ann Lenczewski, $14.3 Million in state and federal funds was allocated.

Obviously, the bridge is badly missed, but I hope I have provided an explanation why it took so long to sort things out. Here’s a map of the bridge in context, showing how it and the soon to be built I-35W trail crossing will connect existing and proposed trails in Bloomington and Minneapolis to the rest of the Twin Cities to south of the river.


Bicycle Minnesota River crossings (Green- Existing, Yellow- to be built), and select existing (red) and proposed (black) trails.

The Nuts and Bolts of Restoration

So now that the decision was made to restore it, more decisions had to be made. when restoring an old structure. There’s a lot of philosophical issues and sometimes conflicting goals. You want something functional that will be cost effective to maintain.

The Foundations in the river turned out to in pretty good shape, and will for the most part be left as-is

The Piers and Abutments are not in good shape. Normally with historic restoration you attempt to save as much as practical. However in this case the outer layers of all the piers were peeling off. Saving a historic core in the middle while replacing the concrete on the outside would be technically challenging, and possibly even dangerous to workers while leaving no historic concrete visible. So the decision was made to completely demolish and replicate them, down to using wood boards as forms as was done in the old days to leave a distinctive, rough edge.

The Deck was in even worse shape. This is what led to the closure, and it continued to rot in place. Some photos show how you can see daylight through some of the decking members.  Initial plans were to attempt to repair it, but it soon became evident it was a lost cause. The 2008 proposal was to use laminated wood planks that would be placed side to side, negating the need for steel stringers underneath the deck.

The current plan is to use a special, lightweight modern concrete with a completely redesigned joist and stringer system, . This replicates the original concrete deck, although the asphalt wearing surface will not be applied to save weight and as there is no engineering need. The new lightweight deck system will lessen the wear on the remaining historic, visible parts of the bridge, while still allowing bicycles and pedestrians and the occasional emergency or maintenance vehicle.

The Trusses by contrast are in pretty good shape. One of the chords on the bottom (where it was hit with salt spray) would be only 1% above the required safety factor, so the decision was made to replace it as part of the project rather than the probability of having to come back in the few years and do it anyway, requiring another closure and construction mobilization. Some of the diagonal bracing has been bent by being hit with vehicles; this is not a safety issue and they never bothered to fix them before, but they are being straightened now, as the report notes: “the site of bridge members in this state of distress could cause the public unnecessary concern”

The bridge never had lighting, and they are not adding it now. It was considered, but it was noted that “the refuge is closed after dark.” Obviously the east-west trails will be closed, but it’s an interesting point whether it will be legal to travel north-south across the river. The old bridge had an “Area Closed After Dark” sign on it, but it appears you can use the bridges without leaving city-owned property and the New Cedar Bridge has a light on it for the trail as well as spill from the roadway lights. At any rate there are no street lights on road south of the bridge and as poorly as Bloomington lights their streets, not a good idea to be riding around without a good bicycle light after dark anyway.

As far as color is concerned, we all know the bridge as a rusty brown, which is actually a good match for the painted brown new bridge as well as blending into the natural surroundings. However it will be returned to it’s original dark grey color.

See this beautiful railing from the Holmes Street Bridge in Shakopee?


Holmes Street Bridge Railing

The Old Cedar Avenue Bridge railing is nothing at all like this. In fact it’s nothing but the type of gas pipe you buy at Home Depot. The original bridge was way out in the sticks, so unlike those closer to the city, little thought was given to ornamentation, and as I mentioned in the last part they had no idea they were creating beauty instead of just transportation. This leads to some philosophical and practical issues. Normally you want to save as much of the original structure as possible, but a gas pipe in 1920 looks a lot like a gas pipe in 2016 and virtually all of it would have been replaced already due to collision damage. Note how nondescript and bent out of shape the railing is. Not surprisingly, no one bothered to keep good records as to when they had to go out and replace which small section of it.


Old Cedar Ave Bridge in 2002

Moreover, the original configuration doesn’t meet modern standards for bicycle and pedestrian facilities–it’s not high enough and there’s too much space in-between the rails. So the what’s being done is

  1. The existing railings will be scrapped entirely
  2. New railing is being assembled out of gas pipe and the top rail will be somewhat higher than the original
  3. Steel cable will be used in-between the gas pipe to reduce the spacing to meet standards. Steel cable is allowed for railings as long as it it not the topmost rail (on the Holmes Street bridge photo you can see a single cable was added to allow it to meet specs.

Even the nuts and bolts are thought of. The original bridge used rivets exclusively. Nowadays riveting is becoming a lost art, and is prohibited for certain structural parts. The plan is to use rivets on visible pieces where it’s allowed and on pieces fabricated in the shop. Button-Head bolts, which resemble a rivet from one side at least, will be used in other visible areas, and the contractor will be allowed to use standard hex-head bolts underneath the bridge where no one but the frogs will see it. Generally, the bolts will be mounted button head inward, due to both practical concerns with getting a wrench in tight places, and aesthetic as the inside side of the bolts will be viewed up close. This unavoidably alters the aesthetic slightly from the outside. Consideration was given to putting plastic caps on the outside, but they would still stick out more, and that would introduce an inappropriate material.


Button Head Bolt

The Project Begins

The project initially got off to a rocky start. To begin with, CenturyLink had move a fiber optic cable that was in the way. Their boring machine broke, and it broke directly underneath a significant oak tree, which they were not allowed to cut down to retrieve it, so they had to bring in a new machine and start boring again from the beginning. The second task was the building of a temporary bridge in order to provide access.

Next demolition of the old bridge deck was done with small excavators removing the wood, an then the rotten steel was removed.  Next massive cranes were brought in and shoring towers were built and an entire section of the bridge was lifted off the piers which is easier to do with no decking, only lightweight temporary bracing to keep it in shape. This is very impressive visually with the huge cranes dwarfing the bridge. While suspended the piers were being demolished and rebuilt and the gusset plates evaluated and replaced if needed. The bridge has now piers, and construction on the new deck is underway.


Old Cedar Bridge Shoring Towers


The northernmost span has been set back down and is ready for the deck to be built, April.

Trailhead Improvements

Going together with the long term plan to reopen the bridge and open the valley up to a wider demographic by filling in a gap in our paved trail network are plans to make the trial-head more functional and attractive, and even enable school groups to visit. Some invasive underbrush and non-significant trees are being cut down around the parking area. Significant canopy trees are being left. This will provide a more open, attractive, park-like atmosphere around the immediate parking area, and increase the perception of safety. (“Perception” being the term from the study, not mine). A mowed, maintained area for picnicking will be located between the bridge and the parking lot. A modern restroom and shelter building is being built just out of the floodplain on the east side of the street. A new boardwalk with rails has replaced the a rotting structure.

Earlier plans were to add nothing but a striped biked lane going uphill (northbound Old Cedar) and sharrows going downhill. The revised plan includes a fully protected eight to ten foot off road trail. This will be a city-owned extension of the Nokomis-Minnesota River Regional trail that now runs between the Minneapolis network and 86th Street, and also connects to the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail. This is a challenging engineering feat, with wetlands on the east side and a steep slope on the west. Since you open up all kinds of issues by cutting into a slope, the trail will cross to the east side near the curve. Originally they were looking at a boardwalk, but now it’s apparent something more like a bridge will be needed.

As a side note, I arrived an hour into the meeting about the new trail, and was only the second person to sign in. Does Bloomington not care about bicycling because the off-road infrastructure is so poor (the Nokomis trail is the first off-road paved trail anywhere in the eastern half of the city), or is it so poor because Bloomington doesn’t care? Or do people just figure it was going to be built anyway, and are not interested into finding out more in advance or providing input? I do know that public meetings aren’t the best gauge of public opinion, they tend to skew towards older people with more time on their hands, and people really involved in the community (the previous name I recognized as a regular contributor to the East Bloomington Residents Facebook Group). At least I got plenty of time chatting with the city engineer about this and other projects.

Finally, back to the bridge: the informal name is now official; the Long Meadow Bridge is now the Old Cedar Bridge.

Minnesota Statute 161.14 Subd 77: Minnesota state bridge number 3145, the Camelback bridge over the Minnesota River overflowage (referred to as Long Meadow Lake) constructed in 1920, is designated and named the “Old Cedar Avenue Bridge.” This designation and name also applies to any renovation or reconstruction of the bridge and must be used in any publicly financed signage that refers to the bridge.

Yes, it was expensive, but sometimes nice things cost money and this was money well spent.

Old Cedar Ave Bridge

The New Old Cedar Ave Bridge

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