Restrictions limit U pedestrians on bridge, bike lanes close

Bikers can no longer use the outside bike paths to get across after the lanes were closed Wednesday.  Bicyclists will have to walk their bikes in the enclosed middle portion of the bridge.

Ashley Goetz

Bikers can no longer use the outside bike paths to get across after the lanes were closed Wednesday. Bicyclists will have to walk their bikes in the enclosed middle portion of the bridge.

The outside biking lanes of the Washington Avenue Bridge will be closed by Hennepin County officials, due to recommendations of engineering consultants, University officials announced Wednesday. Pedestrians and bicyclists are limited to the enclosed middle area of the bridge, according to an e-mail sent by Vice President Kathleen O’Brien. “To keep everyone safe, bicyclists should dismount and walk their bikes across the bridge,” O’Brien said in the e-mail. “The solution is certainly not ideal and the congestion on the bridge will be significant.” “I understand the University community’s concern over the bridge closure and the frustration with the changing plans. I have stressed to Hennepin County officials the vital role the bridge plays in the daily life of the University and will continue to work closely with County officials to protect the safety of our community and ensure adequate pedestrian and bicycle movement across the Mississippi River,” she said. Hennepin County and University officials closed the majority of the Washington Avenue BridgeâÄôs upper deck to pedestrian and bicycle traffic following a report issued on Aug. 21 by URS Corporation , an engineering firm, that cited safety concerns. Pedestrians crossing the Mississippi River between East and West Bank campuses are restricted to the 14-foot-wide enclosed center portion of the upper deck. Estimates for when the bridge will reopen range from five months to a year. According to the UniversityâÄôs Parking and Transportation Services website , the outer portions of the upper deck will remain closed through August 2009. Hennepin County, which took ownership of the bridge in 1997 , previously set aside $400,000 for repairs to the pedestrian level. However, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said a change in national engineering standards moved the repairs ahead. âÄúThe pedestrian level needs extra reinforcement, so in the interest of safety, we acted immediately and decided to go with the restricted corridor,âÄù McLaughlin said. Extra braces will be added to the bridgeâÄôs pedestrian level to address the concerns, according to a Hennepin County news release. The lower bridge deck, which carries vehicle traffic, is restricted according to vehicle weight. Marthand Nookala, the assistant county coordinator for public works in Hennepin County, said the bottom deck of the bridge is safe and was inspected in 2007. âÄúSafety is a priority for Hennepin County,âÄù Nookala said. âÄúPeople should be able to walk the bridge with confidence.âÄù While it may be safe, changes to the bridge could disrupt University activities. Paint the Bridge, an annual event that lets student groups publicize themselves along the inside portion of the bridge, was canceled by Student Unions and Activities due to the safety concerns. Andy Sayre , a graduate assistant at SUA, said students will be able to promote their groups at the St. Paul Activities Fair , Gophers After Dark , Student Group Showcases and by reserving a contact table or display case in the student unions. Sayre said he doesnâÄôt think canceling Paint the Bridge will affect new studentsâÄô ability to get involved on campus. âÄúPaint the bridge tends to be more of an opportunity for group members to bond with each other,âÄù he said. Paint the Bridge wonâÄôt be rescheduled this school year because itâÄôs uncertain when the bridge repairs will be completed, Sayre said. Alternatives exist for students who want to avoid the congestion on the bridge, including the old railroad bridge for bikers and the campus shuttles for walkers, Wolter said. âÄúWe are working on increasing the frequency of campus shuttles traveling across the bridge,âÄù he said.