Just getting to services has been a test of faith this year for members of St. George’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis Park.
The reason? The removal of the Minnetonka Boulevard bridge over Hwy. 100 cut off easy access to the church for a big chunk of the congregation.
“It’s like St. Louis Park was cut in half,” said Patty Dittrich, church administrator for 21 years. “But our people looked on it as a challenge.”
And they met it. The bridge closed on Palm Sunday, and a church program the same evening had the best turnout ever, said the Rev. Paul Allick.
But now the prayers of homeowners and businesses and church administrators along Minnetonka Boulevard have been answered. The bridge reopened last week, after a street party to celebrate the event. And the locals are smiling about it.
“We’re all happy,” said Tara McGregor, a receptionist at Darrin James Salon & Spa on the east side of the bridge. The bridge closure was especially hard on McGregor; her children go to day care just on the other side of the bridge, meaning she had to make a long, circular detour morning and evening for more than six months.
Erin Stotesbery, a stylist, said most businesses in the area adjusted. The salon handed out maps to clients and targeted more advertising to the Uptown area of Minneapolis, whose residents can reach the salon without crossing the bridge.
“At first [clients] got lost and they were frustrated,” she said. “But within a couple of weeks we all adapted. If you know the area, you can figure it out.”
Local streets not accustomed to heavy traffic saw much more than usual, as drivers searched for alternate routes.
“The whole thing has been really difficult,” said Kelli Burrows, who lives on Raleigh Avenue just off Minnetonka Boulevard. “You get people who don’t know about the bridge, and then they’re mad, they’re late and they fly through the neighborhood.”
A lot of motorists are also confused, Burrows said. All summer long, when she was in her yard, motorists would pull up and ask for directions. One woman was so upset that Burrows’ husband, Ben, actually got in his car and led her to where she was going.
For Burrows and other neighbors, the traffic woes may not be over. Just as the Minnetonka Boulevard bridge reopened, the nearby Hwy. 7 bridge closed until next fall.
“The joke in the neighborhood is, ‘If you think it was bad, it’s gonna get worse,’ ” Burrows said.