Three bridges on W. Broadway Avenue that carry a few thousand motorists between Minneapolis and Robbinsdale each day have seen better days. They are discolored and cracked, and corroded steel bars show through on the underside where concrete has fallen away.

Inspectors routinely are seen checking the condition of the two spans over Theodore Wirth Parkway and a third connecting Lowry Avenue to northbound W. Broadway where the road changes its name to Bottineau Boulevard, also known as County Road 81.

All three spans are considered structurally deficient. They are not in danger of falling down, but it's time to replace them, said Jake Bronder, bridge division manager for Hennepin County.

"We've put maintenance into them, but do we keep it up?" Bronder said. He equated it to the old clunker car that eventually has to be replaced. "You can do the brakes and the tires and keep it running for a while."

Rather than continue with the here-and-there repairs, the county plans to replace them with new bridges and add enhancements to the intersection and bike trails below in 2020 — more than a year ahead of schedule — because money is available to meet the need.

All bridges have what's called a sufficiency rating, a score between 0 and 100 that takes into account factors such as structural integrity, condition of the bridge deck, design and traffic volumes. Bridges with scores of 50 or below are eligible for federal funding to help pay for replacement. The W. Broadway bridges scored below 50, Bronder said.

With money available, the county decided to take down the 55-year-old bridges that were built by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and later transferred to the county when the road changed hands. In their place, the county will build three new concrete bridges for $17.5 million.

The work also will include realigning ramps from Lowry Avenue to northbound Bottineau Boulevard and from southbound W. Broadway to Theodore Wirth Parkway to improve sight distance and allow for safer merging, Bronder said.

Building the new bridges presents an opportunity to make improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians at the intersection below, which connects Theodore Wirth Parkway and Victory Memorial Drive, as well as Oakdale and Lowry avenues.

Designs call for curbs that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), new sidewalks, and on-street bikeways with additional trail connections between Lowry and W. Broadway avenues and the Crystal Lake Regional and Grand Rounds trails. The designs also feature added bump-outs to shorten crossing distances at the intersection and more lighting under the bridge.

Those plans are not set but are at a critical juncture.

By fall, the county has to submit plans to MnDOT, Minneapolis and Robbinsdale for review. After that, they are pretty much final.

"These are 75-year decisions," said Bronder, who noted the county solicited ideas and feedback from the public this spring at civic events and through surveys and open houses.

Some of the public's suggestions are being incorporated into the plans. Anybody with great ideas needs to chime in now, said Colin Cox, a Hennepin County transportation department spokesman.

"We can't accommodate late-breaking epiphanies," he said.

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