A new observation deck overlooking the Mississippi River and the historic Rock Island Swing Bridge will open in Inver Grove Heights by the end of the year.

Construction of the 20- by 12-foot deck will begin immediately, after last week's approval of the $40,000 project by the City Council.

Located off 66th Street near Concord Street, just west of the bridge, the new deck is expected to complement the 670-foot bridge pier the city opened in June by providing an accessible vantage point for people who cannot trek onto the pier.

The city took ownership of the swing bridge in October 2009 and restored part of it at a cost of $2.4 million as a key feature of Heritage Park.

The old bridge, which spanned the Mississippi River between Inver Grove Heights and St. Paul Park, was built in 1894 with two decks -- one originally for horses and buggies and later for cars, and a second, top level for trains.

While the pier uses the lower deck for walking and fishing, the observation deck will be built at an elevation even with the top level of the bridge and will mark where trains left the bridge. To reinforce the connection, the deck will be built with wood timbers to resemble an old railroad trestle, and historic information will be posted, said Inver Grove Heights parks and recreation director Eric Carlson.

The city plans to open a trail by next June connecting the new observation deck to the 27-mile Mississippi River Regional Trail that Dakota County is building between South St. Paul and Hastings. A finished segment of that trail runs through Heritage Park now.

The connecting city trail and a parking lot on 66th Street will be built as part of the reconstruction of 66th Street, Carlson said.

The city does not know how many people used the pier this summer, but comments have been positive. "So far it has been very well received," Carlson said.

The observation deck is the next step in the continuing development of the riverside park.

The City Council last week thanked individuals and companies for donations of $6,700 for the restoration of the swing bridge.

"Some people have asked can you still give and of course the answer to that is yes," said Mayor George Tourville.

Standing on the pier affords a view of the river "that is next to none," he said.

In October, the council will discuss winter use of the pier. The parks and rec department will recommend that the city close it between Nov. 1 and March 30 to eliminate winter maintenance, Carlson said.

The Mississippi River Regional Trail between South St. Paul and Hastings will be finished by 2015, said Bruce Blair, manager of facility development for the county.

One mile remains to be built in Inver Grove Heights, and that should be done next year, Blair said.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287