Dinkytown footbridge closed indefinitely

Hilary Brueck

Don’t plan on strutting, rolling or sauntering across Dinkytown’s “M” pedestrian footbridge again anytime this school year.

The bridge that runs over railroad tracks to the south of Sanford and Roy Wilkins halls, connecting students to East Bank classes without trudging down University Avenue, has been closed indefinitely.

An October city inspection revealed heavy rust, connection plates ready to fall, reduced capacity on the bridge and deteriorating load-carrying chords.

The bridge should reopen sometime this summer, University Services spokesman Tim Busse said.

“We saw the report, saw what they were recommending, saw the pictures that they had taken and realized we had to take some quick action,” Busse said. “That’s why we closed it as quickly as we did without a lot of notice.” He also noted substantial rust on the steel underside of the bridge.

University officials received the city’s inspection report Feb. 25 and had the bridge closed by Feb. 28.

“That’s a big inconvenience for people from Sanford, fraternities, (and) Wilkins,” said Kiersten Eckard, a first-year student who lives in Sanford Hall and has class directly across the bridge.

A quaking suspension structure of timber beams and steel, the bridge was moved to its current location in 1995 after being salvaged from new construction in Dinkytown.

“It looked pretty cool and had the ‘M’ built into the architecture, so they decided to move it rather than trash it,” Busse said.

The bridge, which bounces beneath feet and bikes rolling over it, is surfaced with wooden planks. “(That) doesn’t add any rigidity at all,” said Steve Weeks, an architecture professor who specializes in structures and routinely bikes across the bridge.

The traffic load on the bridge in the recent past is no different than what it was originally designed to hold, and damage shouldn’t be anything routine maintenance can’t remedy, he said.

Wood decks, like the one on the bridge need to be replaced often, Weeks said, while the steel beams that span the bridge for support simply need routine care, such as painting, to protect from corrosion.

The city report details heavy paint peeling all along the bridge, loose boards in the timber deck and pack rust all over the steel.

“It’s even more complicated when you sandblast that kind of stuff off, you have to wrap it so the sand doesn’t go everywhere,” Busse said of the rust, adding that repairs will be more difficult given the bridge hangs over an active rail line.

While the process has been slow to start in the winter months, Busse anticipates a quick turnaround on work come spring.