Citizens air range of concerns at bridge hearing

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2007 - 9:52 PM

Minneapolis must decide whether to grant "municipal consent" - issues related to capacity, access and right of way - to MnDOT.

Build it safely, so that no more workers are killed on the bridge. Take into consideration traffic bottlenecks now caused by too few entrances and exits. Heed the concerns of neighbors and area businesses now grappling with the diverted traffic. And move ahead swiftly, but not so fast that mistakes happen.

Those were among the comments at a Thursday night hearing held by the Minneapolis City Council transportation committee about how the replacement bridge on Interstate 35W should be built. The hearing at Thrivent Financial, where one of the bridge-collapse victims worked, drew about 70 people.

At issue is whether the city will give "municipal consent" to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) as it moves to rebuild a major artery into and out of Minneapolis. The bridge collapsed Aug. 1, killing 13 people, including one construction worker. Under the rules of "municipal consent," the city can examine issues related to capacity, access and right of way.

If municipal consent is granted, the construction could start in mid-October and end by December 2008.

Affected residents weigh in

Some residents asked the committee and council to deny municipal consent.

Leo Melzer, owner of Melzer Investment Co., has been a businessman on East Hennepin Avenue for 40 years, and he raised concerns about increasing traffic, including from big trucks, through the historic Marcy-Holmes neighborhood and other local streets.

Bob Benke of New Brighton, a past president of the North Metro I-35W Corridor Coalition, said the communities in Anoka and Ramsey counties his group represents want to be sure the new span will be able to handle increased traffic loads. The coalition supports the proposed reconstruction, with the capacity for light-rail service, Benke said.

"The loss of the I-35W bridge and the people killed in the collapse has reinforced the need to look at our roadway infrastructure as a system, not just a jumble of links," he said. "We need to make sure that the new bridge will serve the generations that come after us."

Todd Klingel, president of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 1,800 businesses across 68 communities, asked that the rebuilding not be delayed. The businesses in his chamber employ more than 200,000 people, many of whom live and work in Minneapolis, and are now struggling.

"It costs our businesses more than a half-million dollars each day," and is a tremendous loss for the region, Klingel said.

Businesses, many of them small, are losing 25 to 40 percent in sales as a result of the collapsed bridge, he said.

"We ask that you accept MnDOT's proposal. However, we understand that the city has some concerns that need to be addressed," he said.

The city is limited to responding to the construction project layout and project report. MnDOT can decide whether to accept the city's recommended changes, or not, said Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who chairs the committee.

MnDOT engineer Thomas O'Keefe presented the state's layout of the bridge project. He acknowledged the state and local impacts of the collapse, including increased traffic on local streets and sales losses to businesses near the failed bridge.

He said the new bridge will feature 10 lanes of traffic, five in each direction. There will be full shoulders, and the capacity to handle light rail and other mass transit.

If a municipality doesn't approve the layout, MnDOT can either make the modification, or it could decide not to proceed or to refer the final layout to the appeals board.

Joy Powell • 612-673-7750

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