In the shadow of the new bridge

View from the U of M
This is the view of the bridge site from the parking lot of the University of Minnesota administration building.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

Hundreds of people have a front row seat to the I-35W bridge construction, even though they don't live here.

Andrea Ray works in the University of Minnesota's red-striped administration building which overlooks the river.

View from the U
Just behind the trees of the courtyard of the U of M administration building, machines dig up and grind up dirt and gravel.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"I'm right at the six floor, right at the back tip of the building, over looking all this," says Ray. "Whenever we have people come over to the building for meetings we usually bring them up there... so there's a constant stream of traffic to the window."

Ray is taking a smoke break in the building's outdoor courtyard.

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The courtyard is carpeted by lush green grass and surrounded by trees. But on the other side of the hedge of trees, large yellow machines scoop up piles of gravel and chunks of the pavement which used to cover the southbound lanes of the freeway.

Ray and her co-workers stayed home the day after the bridge collapse. But after that, it was work as usual. Sort of.

Ray had to find a new way to work, because she used to take the River Road which passes under the bridge. Ray says the bridge construction has also brought some disruptions, though she says they are minimal.

Brownstone near 35W bridge
The brownstone apartment building that Greg Sutherland lives in is located near the corner of 8th St. and University Ave.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

She says one day, construction workers periodically closed the road in front of the building.

"While they were trucking the big concrete pieces from the yard down to the river they had to close off the road about six or seven times a day for about 10 to 15 minutes each time," says Ray. "So there would be times if you were trying to leave the building just at the wrong time you couldn't get out until the concrete thing got past and they re-opened the road."

Across the river, Nile Hallett and Greg Sutherland sit on the steps of a large brownstone.

Their early evening sabbatical includes a few cans of Coors light, and tonight a chat with a roving reporter.

You can't see much of the bridge from here. The view is partially obscured by low hanging tree branches and the big MetalMatic plant down the street sits between us and the river. But Sutherland says there's no escaping the impact from the construction.

View from the brownstone
Here's what Greg Sutherland sees from the street in front of his brownstone apartment building about a block from the 35-W bridge.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"Traffic sucks. Noisy. Otherwise, other than that it's no big deal," says Sutherland.

Sutherland wasn't home when the bridge fell, but he says it was hard to move around the area immediately following the collapse. The neighborhood was full of gawkers, media trucks and emergency vehicles.

Now he says the construction has brought new visitors to the area.

"A lot of the workers they take all the parking," says Sutherland. "And parking is bad enough around here."

Nile Hallett owns the building and lives in another part of Minneapolis. The downing of the bridge has added a few more minutes and a few more miles for the trips to his property and Hallett says on-street parking is tighter than usual around here.

U of M building near 35W bridge
Hundreds of people have a front row seat to the 35-W bridge construction, even though they don't live here. Like the people who work in this U of M building near the construction site. Workers in this building say the offices with a view of the construction get a constant flow of people who are there to take a look.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

"Well, these are University students and they have to, basically put up with a parking problem quite a bit," he says. "And most of them are here because it's walking distance to the University."

It's a short walk from the brownstone, down University avenue to 35W. From the overpass, there's a clear view of the construction site.

Even at dinner time, the workers are going at full tilt.

Scott Lloyd Anderson stands on the University Ave. overpass and paints what he sees.

Since the middle of June, he's created dozens of oil paintings of the construction site from different angles. Anderson says the reasons that draw thousands of spectators to the bridge is what inspired him to paint it.

"Driving across the 10th Ave. bridge, I saw the view," he says. "And it's a vista that's never existed before."

Anderson has taken advantage of the way that vista changes before his eyes. His paintings will be on display at the Thrivent building in downtown Minneapolis this month.

The new 35-W bridge is on pace to open a few months earlier than planned. That means traffic around this part of town will soon resume its normal flow.

The crowds of spectators will dissipate and commuters will find their way back to their usual routes. But considering the events of one year ago, it may take people a lot longer to rediscover what normal means.