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Replacement of Bloomington's old Cedar Avenue bridge took a giant leap forward last week when $2 million in state money was pegged for the project in the supplemental bonding bill.

"I'm soooo happy. It's been 10 years" of fighting for funding, said state Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington.

The state gave the 1920 steel truss bridge to Bloomington in 1981. Though the 865-foot span was beloved by walkers, bikers, fishermen and bird watchers who used it to cross or gain access to Long Meadow Lake in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the bridge became something of an albatross for the city. Rusting and unstable, it was closed to vehicle traffic in 1993 and declared off-limits to walkers and bikers in 2002.

Removing and replacing the bridge, including improving roads that lead to it, is estimated to cost $4.5 million. A new structure would be designed for walkers, bicyclists, people in wheelchairs and the occasional ambulance or small official vehicle. No other car or truck traffic would be permitted.

The bridge has been sorely missed by commuters who wanted to bike from the southern suburbs to the airport, Mall of America or Minneapolis. David Gepner, a member of the Twin Cities Bicycling Club who lives in Richfield, said bikers have to detour 13 miles to cross the Minnesota River.

"This is a vital link, one of the major barriers that deter people from biking," he said.

Before the new appropriation, Bloomington had secured just over $1.3 million in federal and state funding for bridge replacement. The city of Bloomington is expected to pay for part of the project, too, said Jim Gates, deputy director of public works.

Gates called the new $2 million in state money "huge." He said conditions attached to the federal funding means the bridge needs to be well under construction by 2009-10.

Gates said the city's engineering evaluations indicate the bridge should be replaced rather than repaired. Lenczewski said preserving the bridge would cost more than replacing it, and the state appropriation is specifically to remove and replace the bridge.

But some legislative allies, including Eagan DFL Sen. Jim Carlson, a bridge enthusiast and engineer, would like to see restoration discussed.

"It's shown up in a book on historic bridges," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, if it looks like Bloomington has looked at all options and replacement is the best thing to do, then let's go at it. But some people see value in the historic structure."

Gates said Bloomington is open to discussion and is evaluating the strength of the bridge's piers to see if they could be used to support a new structure. In June, the city wants to draw together officials from cities, counties, the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss the bridge.

For Lenczewski, the state funding is a dream realized. She gives much of the credit for the appropriation to Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Though he vetoed the bridge money in the first bonding bill, she said it was the governor who brought the bridge up in end-of-the-session negotiations over the supplemental bonding bill.

"He asked me about it," Lenczewski said. "He realized the worthiness of the project ... and took action to include it. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380