County Spends Extra $14 Million to Make Bridge Look Really Cool

Written by Jeff Johnson on November 5, 2009. Posted in Golden Hydrant

Golden Hydrant goes to Lowry Avenue Bridgegoldenhydrant

We’re in the midst of budget hearings and property tax discussions on the Hennepin County Board, so it’s been awhile since I last awarded a Golden Fire Hydrant, but I can’t pass this one up. The newest Hydrant goes to the Board’s decision to spend an extra $14 million to make the new Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis a “signature” bridge – meaning it will look much fancier than most other bridges in Minnesota.

A little background:

The Lowry Avenue Bridge was built in 1905 and spans the Mississippi at Lowry Avenue in North Minneapolis.  For over 100 years, the bridge carried motorists over the Mississippi almost uninterrupted until it was closed last year based upon the discovery that one of the bridge piers had shifted.

After that discovery, the county appropriately decided that the old bridge was no longer structurally safe and needed to be demolished and rebuilt.

In 2008, the Board was asked to approve one of two options for the new Lowry Avenue Bridge. One option, a “concrete box” design, would look much like most other bridges in the state of Minnesota. The other option, a “tied arch” design, was described as a “signature” bridge, one that would look quite beautiful and unique. Both bridges would be equally functional and safe.

The concrete box design was estimated to cost $66 million. The tied arch design was estimated to cost $84 million. That $18 million difference was later reduced to about a $14 million difference with some changes in the design.

After much discussion, the Board chose the more expensive design. I was not on the Board at the time, but I have reviewed the material provided to the commissioners at that meeting. The rationale for the staff recommendation of the “signature” design was all about aesthetics. In particular, it noted that a group of community leaders and neighborhood organizations from North Minneapolis had a strong preference for the signature design and had suggested that “the plain freeway style bridge” was “offensive” to them.

There was also mention in the material that the signature bridge would require fewer piers than the concrete box design and that would provide a benefit in making it less likely that a river barge would run into one of the piers (something that last happened in 1994). This pier rationale, however, was little more than an afterthought in the material, which focused primarily on the uniqueness and beauty of the signature design.

Last week, the Board essentially affirmed the signature bridge design in a 6 -1 vote. I was the “no” vote.

I have no qualms whatsoever with building a new Lowry Avenue Bridge. Road and bridge building is a core function of county government.

I do, however, have an issue with the decision to spend an extra $14 million to make the bridge “signature.”

Keep in mind, the concrete box alternative would not have been some travesty (and certainly not something that should have “offended” anyone). Rather, it simply would have been a safe and functional bridge that looked like most every other bridge in Minnesota.

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.

lowrybridgeAn artist’s rendering of the new Lowry Avenue Bridge

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , ,