On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will start tearing down the Minnetonka Boulevard bridge over Hwy. 100 in St. Louis Park and taking with it an important piece of Twin Cities transportation history.
Most people won’t be sad to see Bridge No. 5598 and one just like it over Hwy. 7 meet the wrecking ball. The crumbling 80-year-old bridges are being replaced this summer and next as part of a $60 million project to widen Hwy. 100 between 36th Street and I-394 and remove one of the west metro area’s worst traffic pinch points.
“It’s so dangerous,” said longtime resident Jeanne Andersen. “I merge onto the highway from the east side, and if you don’t get into your lane right away you will hit a bridge. That’s got to go.”
If anyone might have wanted those bridges preserved in some fashion it would be Andersen, who is a trustee of the St. Louis Park Historical Society. She grew up on Hwy. 100 and has seen it morph from a county parkway into a bustling thoroughfare busy 24 hours a day.
Andersen, whose vehicle license plate reads “Hiwy100,” said the bridge went up in the 1930s. Scores of men left jobless by the Great Depression built the state-of-the-art highway in what was the largest Works Progress Administration (WPA) project of the time. The highway running from what’s now I-494 in Edina to County Road 81 in Robbinsdale gave motorists their first taste of freeway driving, with grassy medians and concrete dividers separating traffic lanes. Bridges at Minnetonka and Hwys. 7, 12 (now I-394) and 55 featured the first cloverleaf interchanges in the state.
The highway, meant to serve as the western link of the Twin Cities Belt Line, was a popular destination for recreational travelers, especially on Sundays when families came to see thousands of blooming lilacs and then picnic in roadside parks replete with stone “beehive” barbecues, picnic tables and rock gardens cut by hand.
Bridges coming down
As the population grew and development spread westward, Hwy. 100 became overwhelmed with traffic and synonymous with gridlock. Sections to the north and south were expanded, leaving the two-mile portion through St. Louis Park as the only original piece to have never fully been rebuilt.
Low-cost improvements, including turning a shoulder into a traffic lane, were made in 2007, but now a full-scale redo is finally happening and the historic bridges are coming down.
“I remember going under those bridges,” said Joanne Lero, 75, of Blaine, recalling the Sunday drives she took on Hwy. 100 with her family when she was growing up. “My grandfather worked for the WPA and talked about building bridges. I’m sad to see them go because they are a part of my life. I am going to take one more look. I hope somebody at least saves the plaques.”
They will, said April Crockett, MnDOT’s West Area Project manager. Two metal plaques on either end of the bridge — one that reads “Federal Aid Project No. 603A” and the other “Minnesota Highway Dept. Bridge No. 5598 — 1935” will be saved and may be displayed at two planned wayside areas.
“St Louis Park has always been a progressive place, and we’re ready for the next best thing,” Andersen said, referring to a sleek new bridge that will go up.
And so are commuters.