Explosives -- and gravity -- bring down bridge

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 21, 2009 - 8:56 PM

After 104 years, the steel link between north and northeast Minneapolis was dropped loudly into the Mississippi River.

Broken into 30 sections by explosives, the Lowry Avenue Bridge dropped into the Mississippi River Sunday morning, severing a connection between north and northeast Minneapolis that had held since 1905.

The old steel bridge, which had a they-don't-make-them-like-this-anymore character, had won the affection of longtime users for its open-slat driving deck, which hummed with the vibration of passing traffic and gave motorists a clear view of the river below.

The bridge was closed in April 2008 when it was deemed structurally unsafe, four years after a supporting pier had shifted, said Paul Backer, Hennepin County project engineer. Its age and the repairs that would have been needed argued against spending the money to overhaul it.

Still, residents of the area were sorry to see it go.

"I really felt bad seeing it go down,'' said John Grant, a lifelong resident of northeast Minneapolis who lives just blocks from the bridge. "I think it was time, but I was saddened.''

Just after 9 a.m. Sunday, Advanced Explosive Demolition Inc. used 320 charges to topple the bridge. The explosives sparked across its trusses with a loud boom and felled its pre-cut members into large, easy-to-find pieces that jutted out of the water and blocked the channel. Black smoke and dust rose.

Cranes were waiting to lift the sections out of the water, under orders from the Coast Guard to clear the channel within 24 hours.

The bridge deck, which was removed before the implosion, will be refashioned into a fence at the Minneapolis Public Works facility. The rest of the steel will be recycled, Backer said.

People lined the river's east side near Gluek Park to see the implosion. Many had paid $10 to get out over the water on a private dock for a clear view. Others watched from barges, cruise vessels and speedboats.

Elisabeth Ellgen, 63, of Golden Valley, who had come by on Saturday to photograph the bridge, was there again Sunday to see it go down.

As a child living near the river in north Minneapolis, she watched the bridge's reconstruction on its original piers in 1958. She witnessed the ribbon cutting for that reopening and wanted to see the bridge come full circle. "There's a little emotion'' watching it fall, she said.

Spectators who had edged too close had to be moved back by police, delaying the detonation for a few minutes, until 9:08 a.m., Backer said. Otherwise, he considered the $2 million implosion flawless.

After the main navigation channel is cleared, crews will use sonar to sweep for underwater debris. The concrete piers will be removed with jackhammers and chisels later this summer.

The two-lane bridge had a bright, oxidized green superstructure enclosing the deck. Passing motorists felt they were in -- not on -- a bridge, a feeling that will be recaptured in the high-sided, "basket-handle'' arch design for the replacement bridge, whose construction will begin in October.

The new bridge will have two lanes in each direction separated by a 6-foot median, and will have bike and pedestrian trails on both sides, said Jacob Bronder, senior engineer for Hennepin County.

Funding for the new bridge will come from several sources: about $10 million from federal stimulus funds, $25 million from state bridge bonds, about $475,000 in federal transportation funding and the rest from Hennepin County, Bronder said.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711

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