Meetings held for new bridge

MnDOT is seeking input from the public about the design of the new Interstate 35W bridge.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation hosted its fourth open house Wednesday as part of a series designed to elicit public input on the design of the new Interstate 35W bridge.

Of the five open houses scheduled so far, two have taken place on campus; one at the McNamara Alumni Center and the other at the Humphrey Institute.

Vincent Kasprowicz, an economics junior, was passing through the Humphrey Institute Atrium last week when he noticed the MnDOT booths and stopped by to look at the plans.

where to go

Open House
A fifth open house will be set up today from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the IDS Center’s Crystal Court. The IDS Center is located at 717 Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis.

Kasprowicz, a commuter student from Shoreview said he was concerned about the collapse impacting his route to campus.

“I was considering maybe, for a little while, taking classes at another school so I wouldn’t have to deal with it,” Kasprowicz said.

Kasprowicz said because he was already familiar with the University, he decided to stay.

“Since I’m only here two nights a week anyway, I figure it’s not as bad as (what) the day students (will deal with),” he said.

Upon looking at the preliminary designs, Kasprowicz said “it would be nice to see light rail” incorporated into the plan. MnDOT has already pledged to make the new bridge “light-rail-transit ready,” in case of future need.

At yesterday’s open house, Mike Sobolewski, a transportation planner with MnDOT, said the issue of light rail had been on a lot of people’s minds.

“The biggest concern has been light rail and will the bridge be structurally sound enough to support light rail,” Sobolewski said. “(To answer that question) in a word, ‘yes’ Ö we’ve solved that issue,” he said.

Sobolewski also said questions of aesthetics and whether the new bridge could be built in the designated time frame have also been raised by members of the public.

Kevin Gutknecht, a MnDOT spokesman who was present at the Humphrey Institute event said integrating light rail into the bridge’s design would involve adding “extra concrete and rebar so it can handle the weight of light-rail transit,” which Gutknecht said could add an extra $20 million to the project’s overall price tag.

“It shouldn’t impact the time frame of the bridge construction,” Gutknecht said, which is tentatively set to begin in late October and wrap up by the end of next year.

Kasprowicz said he was surprised by the project’s time frame.

“If they’re talking about the end of ’08, they must be speeding up the process,” he said.

Gutknecht said because builders will not have to compete with traffic when constructing the new bridge, “we can do it a lot faster.”

He also said the company that is awarded the contract will receive incentive pay for finishing the project earlier than scheduled.

Conversely, if the project is finished later than the scheduled end date, the builder will incur monetary penalties.

Not everyone agrees with the plan to build the bridge as quickly as possible.

Dan Pinkerton, who works in the University’s Austrian studies department, said at an open house he thinks creating an aesthetically pleasing bridge is worth waiting a few extra months.

“If it takes three more months to build a suspension bridge then it seems to me, maybe we want to do that,” Pinkerton said.

He said he filled out a comment card at the event, suggesting that a suspension bridge would be a desirable replacement.

On the subject of making the new bridge light-rail ready, Pinkerton agreed with Kasprowicz.

“To tell you the truth, I think it should be ready, in case we need another line,” Pinkerton said.

Pinkerton said he thought a line running over the Washington Avenue Bridge would attract more riders for the Central Corridor light-rail line than a line running over the new I-35W bridge, but that it made sense to be prepared in case other lines are added in the future.

Sobolewski said the Metropolitan Council’s expected projects through 2030 have not indicated any plans for a light-rail line that would incorporate the I-35W bridge. Beyond that time it’s unclear what to expect, he added.