Old Cedar Avenue bridge fans plan rally for 'missing link'

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 20, 2012 - 7:35 PM

Supporters want to drum up enthusiasm - and cash - to renovate the Old Cedar Avenue bridge, which can't be torn down because of its historic designation. It's a "great recreational resource."

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The Old Cedar Avenue bridge in Bloomington juts out into the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The steel structure was closed to vehicle traffic in 1993 and to pedestrians and bicycles in 2002. The city has been an unwilling owner since 1981.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Frustrated that Bloomington's Old Cedar Avenue bridge has languished for years, a state legislator from the city is moving to jumpstart the bridge's reuse as a recreation trail link.

At the invitation of Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, Gov. Mark Dayton will visit the bridge on Saturday during an informal rally at 11 a.m.

"I want the governor to see this up close and personal," Lenczewski said.

Lenczewski, who secured bonding money for the bridge in the past, intends to seek additional state funding next year.

"I, along with hundreds and thousands of residents, are committed to having this great recreational resource move forward," she said.

Bikers and hikers see the decaying 1920 steel bridge as a crucial link between the growing number of trails in Hennepin and Dakota counties. The bridge closed to vehicle traffic in 1993 and to pedestrians and bicyclists in 2002.

Five years ago, Gov. Tim Pawlenty attended a similar rally for the rusting span over Long Meadow Lake in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

But Bloomington, which has been the bridge's unwilling owner since the state gave it to the city in 1981, has been unwavering in its resolve not to renovate the bridge until a new owner is found.

Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead will be at Saturday's event.

"I think we want to see something get done," he said. "We would like to see someone else take it on, but candidly, I'm coming to the realization that it might not happen. So we have to think how we can come together."

Time to 'move forward'

Several years ago, Bloomington was planning to replace the bridge. But the structure has historic status, and state and federal rules require that it be renovated. The city has balked, partly because of concerns about maintenance.

Rehabilitation would cost $5.5 million to $10 million, depending on how much work is done. The city already has collected about $5.3 million for the job from various sources, including the state and federal governments.

The city and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which runs the Minnesota Valley refuge, have discussed the possibility of federal ownership of the bridge. The city also would give the refuge about 1,000 acres of city land along the river.

But discussions are preliminary, the outcome uncertain, and negotiations could take years.

Lenczewski doesn't want to wait that long. She said she will propose legislation next session to fill any funding gap for bridge work.

"We have to try to accept the reality of the situation and move forward," she said.

David Gepner, chairman of the Hennepin County Bicycle Advisory Committee, will be at the event as a bridge supporter.

"From my standpoint, this has gone on too long," he said. "It's a vital link for bicyclists to get from Dakota County to Hennepin County. There's a lot of good riding south of the river, and I feel isolated not getting there."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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