Lowry Bridge Nears Completion

Written by Jeff Johnson on August 15, 2012. Posted in General

The Star Tribune on Sunday ran a story on the increasing price tag of the new Lowry Avenue Bridge in North Minneapolis.  An excerpt:

‘As the new Lowry Avenue bridge has gone up, so have the costs and delays…

Initially on the hook for $9.4 million, county taxpayers are shouldering $66.5 million of a price tag ratcheted up by the addition of a “signature” design and a second bridge built as an approach to the main bridge.

“I understand that desire to have things that stand out and are special, but it means that you spend a lot more of your constituents’ money and I don’t think we’re there anymore,” said Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who called the new bridge a vestige of another era when government could afford to dress up its infrastructure.

The approach bridge, a plain concrete box girder design that stretches 700 feet from the river bridge nearly all the way to N. 2nd Street, is closer to what Johnson believes would have worked just fine on the river.

Supporters say the cost to create a strikingly modern bridge is well worth it because of its value to the community and future development of that corridor. They say it also continues the evolution of the city’s industrial riverfront to green space and parkways.

“It’s going to be there for a long time and tie those two parts of the city together,” said Mark Stenglein, the former county commissioner who spearheaded efforts to replace the former bridge and is now Minneapolis Downtown Council president and CEO.’

Part of the increase in the cost of this project was very legitimate (and I supported it).  The approach to the main bridge was in signicant disrepair and would have been part of a large project necessary in the coming years.  Instead of waiting to complete the work on the approach, the board unanimously agreed to do both projects at once.  From the Strib story:

The turning point came at a meeting in April 2010, when County Administrator Richard Johnson proposed that the board increase county bonding for the bridge project by $30 million so the entire project could be finished at once.

Without comment, commissioners — including Jeff Johnson — voted to nearly double the amount the county would spend on the bridge project. The reasoning was that it would be cheaper to complete the project now than later.

That cost increase, however, was an entirely different decision than the one to increase the budget based on the “signature” design of the bridge. 

One factor in the rising cost was the County Board’s decision in 2008 to build a unique, tied-arch design that cost $18 million more than an alternative freeway-style bridge. The cost difference later was whittled to $12 million by slightly narrowing the lanes and shrinking the deck surface.

 I posted some time back on that decision (giving it a Golden Fire Hydrant Award).

To repeat my conclusion to that 2009 post: “At a time when the county is cutting programs, laying off employees, raising the property tax levy and planning a capital investment program that is exploding over the next five years, it seems a little crazy to be spending $14 million more than is necessary on a bridge…But then again, it will look really cool.”

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