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Damaged bridge deals Metro commuters a day of disruption

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Workers at the Sabo bridge
Service along the Hiawatha Light Rail line is interrupted Monday, Feb. 20., because workers are repairing the Sabo pedestrian bridge that runs over a section of tracks. Support cables on the bridge failed the night before.
MPR Photo/Matt Sepic

Frustrated commuters Tuesday are dealing with another day of service disruptions on the Hiawatha Light Rail.

Minneapolis officials say it is too soon to know when the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge, a section of Hiawatha Avenue and a light-rail station will reopen. Metro Transit officials announced today that shuttle bus service near the affected area will continue until further notice.

Use of the area was halted when a cable support on the pedestrian and bicycle bridge failed and cables broke. Minneapolis officials closed the bridge over Hiawatha Avenue early Monday after they realized the cable support had failed.

Metro Transit suspended light rail service at Lake Street starting at 5:30 a.m. Monday, and Highway 55 was closed between East 26th and Lake Streets Tuesday.

Metro Transit has been running six to 12 shuttle buses to carry riders between the 38th Street and Franklin Avenue stops, bypassing Lake, one of the line's busiest stations.

The transfer causes delays of 15 to 20 minutes, John Siqveland of Metro Transit said.

"You know, the questions for us in the days ahead would be what's the best way to continue serving customers in the corridor," Siqveland said. "Maybe there is a different way to align bus service, but those are all questions for another time. Right now, we are really focused on just keeping this replacement bus service moving and performing for our customers."

The Hiawatha light rail line runs beneath the Sabo pedestrian bridge and handles ridership of about 31,000 trips each weekday. Officials said Metro Transit will pay for the cost of any service changes out of its existing operating budget.

Meanwhile, city crews worked Tuesday to shore up the Sabo Bridge with additional reinforcements and assess the span's safety.

It's too early to tell what caused the cable support to fail, said Mike Kennedy, Minneapolis director of transportation, maintenance and repair. Recent inspections of the $5.1 million bridge found no evidence that the bridge was jeopardized.

"We didn't think that that was a strong possibility," Kennedy said.

"When we first saw one cable missing — you know there is a certain amount of redundancy in the design — that, we weren't afraid of that," he said.

"But when we found that there was another connector point in the next pair of cables down, that's when we said, 'Now we really need to take this very, very seriously' and that is when we made the decision to close both the highway and the LRT down," Kennedy said.

The Sabo Bridge was built by Burnsville-based Ames Construction, which did not return calls seeking comment.

The design consultant on the five-year-old bridge was San Francisco-based URS Corp — the same engineering firm that consulted on the Interstate 35W bridge, which collapsed in 2007.

A URS spokesman said in a statement the company is working to help evaluate the safety and stability of the bridge so light rail service can resume and Hiawatha Avenue can be reopened to traffic.

The city says the Sabo bridge will remain closed until repairs are complete.