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Apr 25, 2008
Listen Hennepin County commissioner Mark Stenglein on the closing of the Lowry Avenue Bridge
Hennepin County officials announced Thursday that "structural issues" were serious enough to warrant permanently closing the Lowry Avenue Bridge.
Earlier this month, inspectors found that one of the piers holding up the bridge had shifted more than a foot since 2004.
Engineers say the bridge, which carries about 12,000 vehicles a day, is not in immediate danger of collapse. The main concern was how the piers would react to the coming warm weather, specifically where they connected to so-called bearings that connect the piers to the bridge deck.
Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, whose district includes the bridge, said county engineers and consultants recommended closing the bridge as a precaution before the start to summer.
"With the thermal expansion and the air heating up, metal expands and the bridge is starting to push against that roller bearing. We have to err on the side of public safety. We just can't keep the bridge open anymore," he said.
Construction on a new bridge was originally scheduled to start in 2009. The dismantling of the bridge will begin next week and it's expected to take six months.
Stenglein said the county will expedite design and construction. He expects the new bridge to be in place in two years.
The county made replacing it a top priority in 2006. It's been inspected regularly, including an in-depth fracture-critical inspection in September 2007.
Michael Anderson, who lives just two blocks from the west end of the bridge, said he worried every time he crossed the Lowry Avenue bridge. He was walking across it Thursday, like he does almost every day.
He remembers the last time the bridge was closed for repair and said it was a big headache.
"I had to go all the way down to I think that's Broadway Broadway and come all the way back up this way, you know, to go to the store," Anderson said. "Plus, I scrap a lot on my bike and buggy, so that's a big impact on me."
The Lowry Avenue Bridge was closed for a year in 2005, so engineers and consultants could determine the extent of its problems. They also installed a new bearing system.
Bob Marget, owner of River Liquor Store at the corner of Marshall and Lowry, said his experience during the last shut down has him concerned about business.
"Last time it was closed, we were down about 35 percent in business just through loss of traffic, loss of customers form the Northside," Marget said. "That was only for a year, and this will be for a lot longer, it's unfortunate, but the safety comes first."
He said he's got no choice but to accept it.
"Unfortunately for the business, I'll lose a considerable amount of business and money," he said. "But we've been here 62 years, and, hopefully, we'll be here when the new bridge opens up."
The replacement is estimated to cost $109 million, but funding has not yet been secured. Funding for the project will come from the Hennepin County State Aid and state bridge bonds. Officials are also pursuing federal funding.