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How the Minnesota mystery of 'Bloomfield bridge' was solved by a curious sleuth

A view of a pedestrian bridge.
The Bloomfield pedestrian bridge from the north, outside the Taco Bell, has a long-dubious history uncovered recently.
Courtesy of Tyler Vigen

Minnesota is full of iconic, beloved landmarks. But there are lots of other, “functional” landmarks we pass by every day.

The story of how one underused, nearly anonymous piece of architecture came to be was nearly lost to time and fading memories. That is, until a man from Bloomington, Minn., spent two months trying to uncover its history.

The “Bloomfield Bridge,” as dubbed by the Assumption Church due to its location, is an oddly placed pedestrian bridge crossing I-494, just west of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. It extends from a Grainger warehouse in Bloomington across a freeway to a Taco Bell in Richfield, Minn.

One day, Tyler Vigen stepped outside of the Taco Bell and asked the seemingly simple question: “Why is this bridge here?”

While not a journalist but a curious individual, he set out to find the answer. Vigen ultimately found that its purpose served students of the Assumption Church and School who needed a clear path. But he spent nearly ten hours a week each week trying to reach that simple conclusion, parsing through hundreds of archived documents in several states. Vigen was a guest on Morning Edition and shared his journey into Minnesota lore that has gone viral.

Listen to the full interview by clicking the player above.

”I set out to understand more about this bridge, in particular, I learned much more about the area around it,” Vigen said. “I think that people who are reading [my article], though, are interested in how interested I am.”

Vigen drives under the pedestrian bridge on his way to the airport and its purpose nagged at him enough to bring it up to his wife. She didn’t dismiss the idea, and so Vigen was intrigued and determined.

“It didn’t make sense to me why it was there, because it lands in some grass that seems to go to nowhere.”

Vigen’s journey down the rabbit hole began with reading the bridge’s plaque — eventually speaking with parishioners of the church and even the former principal around the time of the bridge’s construction.

An engineering drawing.
The original engineering plans of bridge #9078 or the "Bloomfield bridge" provided by Peter Wilson of the Bridges Division.
Courtesy of Tyler Vigen

He went through several boxes of documents at the Minnesota Historical Society and ended up involving eight federal, state and local agencies in his quest to discover the bridge’s purpose.

A box of files.
The 1950s and 60s federal aid archive boxes and files connected to the pedestrian bridge at the Minnesota Historical Center.
Courtesy of Tyler Vigen

He reached the near-end of his goose chase on a trip to the National Archives in Kansas City.

Vigen reflected on his fervor, travels and FOIA requests, saying that he should have simply been talking to more people all along.

Vigen’s final story was about 6,000 words long, with another 4,000 in footnotes. He said it was even longer before his wife Zidi Chen helped him to edit it down. He even went as far as to request permission from the FAA to take drone footage of the bridge, due to its proximity to the airport.

A view of a pedestrian bridge from the air.
An aerial view of the Bloomfield pedestrian bridge spanning across I-494.
Courtesy of Tyler Vigen

“She helped to make it clear and concise for everyone to read”, he said.

Vigen said the “Bloomfield bridge” endeavor wasn’t planned, so while it’s not on the agenda, another deep dive isn’t off the table.

Give Vigen’s work a read. It’s worth the time investment. And when you do, be sure to click on his embedded footnotes, for extra nuggets highlighting his curiosity and spirit.

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