Friday’s official opening of the newly renovated Old Cedar Avenue Bridge will not be accompanied by a grand ceremony. There won’t be a city leader there to cut a ribbon, nor will the bridge be celebrated with a colorful parade.
In fact, curious bikers and pedestrians already have been crossing it for a week now. Friday’s official opening is a gentle statement for a bridge sporting a fresh look after going unused for 14 years.
And it won’t be open for long, at least for now: The bridge, which spans a narrow section of Long Meadow Lake in Bloomington and the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, will close again in the spring for work on road rebuilding and other construction.
Julie Long, Bloomington’s senior civil engineer for the $15 million restoration project, said she hopes it will be entirely accessible by next fall.
“We didn’t want to have a ceremony and just close it again next year,” she said. “We just want to have a ceremony when everything is done.”
The bridge can be used only by pedestrians and cyclists, for whom it can reduce a trip across the Minnesota River by up to five miles, Long said.
Completed in 1920, the bridge was closed to motor vehicles in 1993 and all traffic in 2002 because of decay. Cyclists and nature lovers pushed Bloomington to fix the bridge, which would occasionally flood in the spring. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, and the City Council approved its renovation the same year.
Renovation of the bridge started in the spring of 2015 and continued until this month. Crews kept the structural look of the bridge because of its historic character and focused on repairs to its foundation, Long said.
That included replacing the beams on the underside of the bridge, installing new railings, straightening overhead beams and repairing metal connections. Its wooden planks were replaced with a lightweight concrete deck and the beams were painted gray, both nods to its original look.
The final cost was higher than the $13 million estimated before construction began, which Long attributed to the need to reconstruct all five piers supporting the bridge.
“You don’t get to renovate historic bridges often in a career,” Long said. “I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of project.”
Jim Anderson, 58, crossed the bridge by bike Thursday morning for the first time since it reopened. He praised the effort to maintain the integrity of the structure, but was ambivalent about the renovation costs.
“That’s a high price for a pedestrian bridge,” he said. “I’m not in favor for using a lot of that money, but … obviously, it’s going to be here to stay.”
The area is known as a great destination for birders, said Joan Osgood of St. Paul, who crossed the bridge with her sister. A birder for 10 years and armed with binoculars, she was able to spot a group of American coots and a northern shoveler.
For others, the reopening of the bridge carried a deeper meaning. Alice Winker, 54, remembered her school bus driving across the bridge to pick up a student on the other side of the lake. Now that it’s open again, she expects to stroll across it with her husband.
“There’s a lot of people in this area that are really excited to see the bridge open again because we’ve been walking across here for years,” Winker said. “We remember it with the wooden planks and it being rusty, but this is more like the original way it was.”