The Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis soon will undergo a long-anticipated makeover now that $15 million in funding has been secured to complete its rehabilitation.
Without needed repairs, it was at risk of being shut down.
“It’s an iconic Minnesota bridge in a historic district. It represents the entire state,” said Sen. Kari Dziedzic, D-Minneapolis. “It’s gotten to the point where they’ve needed to ask for larger funds.”
The state-owned bridge recently received $12 million in federal funding and $2 million in state funding, said Kevin Gutknecht, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
The bridge had received $1 million in state funding during last year’s legislative session, but that was only a fraction of what MnDOT had requested to keep the 135-year-old former railroad bridge open for pedestrian use.
Improvements will likely begin in 2021, Gutknecht said. Next steps include further inspections and proposals.
Repairs will include replacing the bridge’s mortar, adding some stones and bricks and installing a system to monitor the erosion of stone beneath the water level.
Bridge engineers don’t expect construction to cause the bridge, located near St. Anthony Falls, to be closed for a long period, if at all.
The $12 million infusion came from a Federal Highway Administration transportation alternatives fund. “[The state hasn’t] been able to come up with what we’ve needed, and we determined it was time for us to figure out if there was a way to do it internally,” Gutknecht said.
The state’s $1 million allocation last year emerged out of a nearly $13 million bonding bill proposal for inspection and repairs to the bridge. The recent $2 million in state funding is from the Minnesota Rail Service Improvement Program.
The bridge functioned as a railroad bridge through most of the 20th century and was converted to a pedestrian walkway in the mid-1990s.
Chris Lautenschlager, executive director of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, said the Stone Arch Bridge is one of the “main gateways into the neighborhood.”
“It’s incredibly important to how we recreate and get around in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, and it’s a huge part of our identity,” Lautenschlager said. “It’s a state resource as well.”
Lautenschlager said he was “thrilled” the money was found for the project.
“There was a period last spring where we thought the Stone Arch Bridge might be closed off for access,” he said.
Since 2015, MnDOT has requested several million dollars each year for the bridge. After a 2017 inspection, Gutknecht said rehabilitation needs had grown, and so did their funding request.
“The last [inspection] told us we need to start working hard on getting a repair project going,” he said.
But instead of trying for a large pot of state dollars again this year, Gutknecht said MnDOT changed its strategy.
“It’s getting to the point where we need to get started on the work or the structure is not going to be usable,” he said.
Council Member Steve Fletcher, who represents the Third Ward where the bridge is located, said he had pushed to fund bridge repairs. “The state owns the bridge, so they needed to be the ones to step up to fund it,” he said.
Fletcher said the bridge’s repair is important not only for historical reasons and accessibility purposes but for future local development.
“For the long term it’s reassuring for everyone, for businesses and developers, that there will be something to connect the two sides” of the Mississippi River, he said.
Isabella Murray is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.