As people milled about the Roseville Area High School gym looking at displays about the new bridge, a theme quickly emerged: many who turned out want mass transit, especially light rail, included in any new bridge design.
Will Owens, from New Brighton, rides the bus. He says buses are not enough because buses get stuck in traffic. He wants any new 35W bridge to include light rail.
"Light rail has certain serious advantages," says Owens. "The bus not coming is a big issue. That's one of the reasons why people don't use it."
Owens says city and state officials need to see the rebuilding of the 35W bridge as an opportunity for a better regional mass transit system.
MnDOT is planning for the bridge to have 10 lanes of traffic, five in each direction. That is two lanes wider than the original bridge. Beyond that, much remains to be decided.
It is not clear whether the bridge will be constructed with steel or concrete and steel. But the agency says it is planning for a bridge that can last 100 years.
During the open house, that life expectancy prompted a number of comments that the state should plan for what the Twin Cities needs far into the future.
Deborah Zvosec of South Minneapolis said it's shortsighted for the state to just replace the bridge without including light rail.
"I think it would be critical to have light rail options open and in preparation for the future so we can look at this with a long term view and construct the bridge with options for mass transit and the greatest energy independence possible," Zvosec said.
Transportation officials say the $250 million in federal emergency aid limits them to replacing the existing structure. They say adding light rail could delay the project and cost more.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has been vocal in pushing for preserving the option of light rail. The City Council is expected to adopt a set of principles today that also call for ensuring light rail or bus rapid transit are not excluded as possibilities.
Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau recently expressed doubts that light rail could be included under the current budget.
Patience Caso, from Arden Hills, says officials need to be more open-minded about transit.
"To have the agencies come out right now and say 'it's just not even an option' is a little bit of a rush to judgment and I seriously hope they reconsider that," she said.
As he mingled with people at the open house, MnDOT's Kevin Gutknecht stressed that transportation officials are not opposed to transit.
"All options are on the table,"he said. "We're certainly looking at it. If it adds cost or it adds time, that is certainly a factor. We want to provide something that we can get up there quickly and meet the needs of the community as best we can."
Transportation officials are aiming to complete the new bridge by 2008.