Repair plan set for Washington Ave. Bridge

Almost four months after Hennepin County announced use restrictions on the Washington Avenue Bridge , the University of Minnesota and the county have selected a final design for repairs to the pedestrian level. The repairs are set to begin in early March and may lead to temporary lane closures on the vehicle level of the bridge, Jim Grube, Hennepin County Transportation Department director, said. However, traffic on the pedestrian level should not be affected further, according to Hennepin County and University officials. Portions of the upper level of the pedestrian deck were closed after a report issued by the URS engineering firm showed safety issues in August. The report indicated that if the pedestrian deck was âÄúfully loadedâÄù with people the columns supporting the deck might not be strong enough to hold the weight. There were also issues with how the columns are connected. Repairs to the pedestrian level will include adding cross bracing to the inner left columns supporting the pedestrian bridge deck. These braces will add extra reinforcement to the structure, Grube said. Hennepin County has identified six locations where cross bracing will need to be added. The pedestrian deck, which is broken into segments, will also need extra reinforcement where the segments connect, he said. A lift will be used to add the reinforcements in 14 different locations. Hennepin County and University officials still hope to have construction complete and the restrictions removed by April 1, 2009. Peter McLaughlin, Hennepin County Commissioner , said work on the bridge cannot begin until drawings of the structural steel to be used in the repairs are submitted. âÄúWe are not anticipating any problems,âÄù McLaughlin said. âÄúWe just need some drawings of the structural steel and we will be off and running.âÄù The repairs will be done by Sowles Steel Erectors, a construction company based in Minneapolis. The current bid sets the total cost at $598,100, McLaughlin said. The cost of the bridge repairs will be covered by Hennepin County. Tim Busse, University Services spokesman , said Hennepin County had several contractors look at the structural problems with the bridge and determine possible solutions. The University reviewed the design options, but Hennepin County ultimately chose the final plan. âÄúDesign is not necessarily a matter of how itâÄôs going to look,âÄù Busse said. âÄúItâÄôs basically how itâÄôs going to work, how we are going to make sure the upper deck is stabilized.âÄù Busse said the first order of business for the University and Hennepin County was the safety of the design plan. âÄúWe first wanted to make sure the plan would support the pedestrian deck,âÄù he said. âÄúThe biggest and most important thing was to make sure the pedestrian level would be safe.âÄù Hennepin County also looked at timing, cost and the different contractors who could do the work, he said. The vehicle level of the bridge will need to be strengthened in order to make it ready for the Central Corridor light-rail line, Kathleen OâÄôBrien said in an October interview with the Daily. However, these repairs will be separate from the repairs to the pedestrian deck, and are estimated to cost $40 million, she said. The vehicle level is currently safe for legal-weight vehicles.