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Citizen group selects I-35W bridge's design details

  • Article by: Jim Foti
  • Star Tribune
  • October 24, 2007 - 11:42 PM

The next time you cross the Mississippi River on Interstate 35W, you'll travel on a white or perhaps pale-gray bridge -- and if you're in a lane with an unobstructed view, open metal railings will let you see the water below.

Those design decisions were among the details worked out Wednesday at an all-day meeting involving more than 80 people. The session, called a charrette, also produced verdicts on the shape of the bridge's piers and on an unusual design for retaining walls: chunks of local stone of varying colors stacked in stainless-steel cages.

Figg Bridge Engineers, which ran the charrette, is part of a construction team led by Flatiron Constructors that won a $234 million bridge contract in part because of the project's aesthetics and its plans for public involvement. There was plenty of involvement on display Wednesday.

Using one of the portable microphones handed around the room by sportcoat-wearing attendants, architect Phillip Koski announced that he'd been telling people his only reason for attending the charrette was "so we don't end up with a beige bridge." He said a white bridge would fit in better with the 3rd Avenue and 10th Avenue bridges and riverfront grain elevators.

Koski, chairman of the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, got his wish; white beat out sandstone, gaining two-thirds of the votes cast. Written comments on the ballots will be taken into account in deciding the exact hue, which could tilt toward gray.

The northeast Minneapolis charrette provided breaks for participants to sketch concepts, lobby each other or amuse each other with ideas ranging from moose-shaped stenciling on the bridge to coloring the superstructure black or bright red.

Participants were asked to choose a texture for retaining walls and abutments. Two designs were concrete, with one containing engraved quotes about the Mississippi. A third design consisted of mesh baskets filled with stones, similar to a wall already in place at the 35E crossing of the river.

Some who spoke favored the baskets, called gabions, because they seemed harder for vandals to spray-paint. Flat walls, said Rosemary Knutson, who lives near the bridge, "will be covered with graffiti immediately."

The gabions beat out the other two options, earning a 7.7 rating on a scale of 1 to 10.

Pier review

The discussion about pier design centered at times on how much parkland they'd take up, with a few folks referring to the larger design as "an elephant's foot." But that design, with curves that continued the arch formed by the main span, ultimately won.

Matt Zeller of the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota was among those voting for it. With millions of state residents concerned about bridge safety, he said, "Option A looks awfully sturdy."

Jerry Foss, who lives near the river, backed solid concrete railings, in part to keep drivers focused. Backers of the solid railing noted that the open railing, with its metal rails, will have higher maintenance costs, and argued that, at freeway speeds, there isn't much time to look anyway.

But John Crippen, director of the Mill City Museum on the riverfront, acknowledged the reality of modern commuting: "We're not always going to be going over this bridge at 55 miles per hour." The open railing, which will be on the part of the bridge over the river, won a 7.4 rating, beating the partially open railing (6.2) and the solid one (3.5).

Still to be resolved: Monuments at the river crossing and lighting (a vote on the latter ended in a tie). Tom Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota's College of Design, and Ben Heywood, director of the Soap Factory gallery near the river, suggested that artists take over those two facets, and possibly combine them.

Jim Foti • 612-673-4491

Jim Foti • jfoti@startribune.com

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