Upgrades in store for Washington Avenue bridge

The U will consider everything from minor repairs to complete bridge renovation.

Haley Hansen

The University of Minnesota is making plans to renovate the 50-year-old Washington Avenue Bridge connecting the East and West Bank campuses.

The cost of the potential renovation project ranges from $930,000 for minimum maintenance to nearly $14 million for replacing the bridge’s pedestrian enclosure, according to a University report released last spring.

Mike Berthelsen, University associate vice president of facilities management, said though the strength and structure of the bridge are safe, it’s still in need of repairs and upgrades.

“This is not the condition that we plan to leave it in,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to figure out what the best plan is and how much University money should be spent.”

Berthelsen said there aren’t any cheap options when it comes to the future of the structure, especially considering its size. The bridge is over 1,100 feet long.

“It’s not a complex building,” he said. “But when you add it all up, it’s really big. It goes on for a long time.”

The University owns the pedestrian level of the bridge, and the city is responsible for the lower level, which includes a road and light rail tracks, University spokesman Tim Busse said.

In 2013, the University spent $16,455 on maintenance for the structure, according to a report.

“Obviously, something needs to be done,” Busse said. “It’s in rough shape up there, [and] it’s been around for a while.”

The source of funding for the future renovations isn’t yet determined, Berthelsen said. He said the University typically prioritizes upgrading other facilities, like classrooms and research labs, over items like the bridge.

Construction or changes to the bridge could possibly begin next summer, he said, but no plans have been finalized.

School leaders will meet to discuss the bridge’s future this spring, Berthelsen said, but they may not make a final decision this school year.

The school has been discussing possible improvements to the bridge for a while, but he said construction of the Green Line light rail deterred any major renovations.

The Minnesota Student Association is currently conducting a student poll to seek input on the bridge’s current state.

MSA communications director Drew Coveyou said the group hopes the poll will help identify some of the student body’s biggest concerns with the structure.

“It helps us provide some context,” he said. “That can definitely add a lot of weight to different [requests] we make of different University departments.”