Midtown Greenway bridges may get multi-media facelift

Plans for bridges east of I-35W will foreshadow Southwest design possibilities

The city and county are working together to revamp and customize bridges lining the Midtown Greenway trench. The Greenway runs just north of 29th Street in Southwest. Thirty of the trench’s approximately 40 bridges are being evaluated for a face-lift.

Jon Wertjes, the Midtown Greenway’s transportation engineer, will manage the conceptual design project for Southwest’s Greenway bridges.

"The bridges will have to be replaced according to which is worse off," he said, "We’re starting with the bridges at Chicago [Avenue] in 2004 and Park [Avenue] in 2005."

The Chicago and Park bridge designs have already had much community input, Wertjes said, and will give Southwest residents an idea of what is possible for their Greenway bridges. The Fremont Avenue Bridge in the Lowry Hill East (Wedge) neighborhood is scheduled for 2006 and Whittier’s Pleasant Avenue and Stevens Avenue bridges for 2007.

"It’s kind of setting a design process," he said.

Wertjes said residents tossed around many creative ideas so their bridge could fit their neighborhood.

One idea included musical notes on the bridge, he said, so as cars drive across, music is played. A similar idea suggested trickling water to create music.

Wertjes said architects and residents can consider an artistic component, taking into account unique architecture and also creative light and sound possibilities.

Julie Snow Architects’ Martha McQuade, project manager for the Chicago and Park bridges, said the one design stipulation was to get people from the street level to the greenway. "The idea is to get people down in there," she said.

McQuade said the Chicago bridge will have a curved space in the bridge designed to reflect sound. "They act as parabolic reflectors," she said.

She said there will be water trickling down from the street to the bridge, creating sounds echoing through the bridge, and the vertical bridge walls are being designed for growing plants.

She said the Park bridge will also have sound elements –tubes at the street level that go down to grates in the bridge where people at street level can talk to people in the Greenway below, and vice versa. " We wanted to encourage a place to play where kids can have fun," she said.

The bridges will also have unique lighting. McQuade said light will be used as a material, but the fixtures will be hidden. One element, she said, will even make it appear as if the street above the bridge is glowing.

McQuade said because many types of art, such as murals, are very culturally specific, it was important for this project to be more culturally broad and inclusive. "We were really interested in making a connection between sound and light to people of different cultures," she said.

Historic significance

Wertjes said historical significance is another important factor in the project. "The Greenway trench could be designated as a historic place," he said.

Larry Blackstad, Hennepin County community works division manager, said the historical significance is the man-made depression that is the Greenway trench. "It’s one of the few places in the county where an urban rail road was depressed, that’s what makes it unique," he said.

The trench’s former owner, the Canadian Pacific Railroad, submitted an application to the National Historic Registry. Wertges said because the trench may be historic, the bridges must be treated accordingly, even if they are not historic. Blackstad also said that the rhythm of bridges down the line is significant, not the individual bridges or arches.

By working with the State Historic Preservation Office, Wertjes said the project will make sure to adhere to the trench’s character. "We want to connect the new to the old," he said.

Wertjes said they are evaluating each bridge individually based on what he calls the "Three R’s: replace, remove or repair the structure."

He said because some of the bridges are old and others are relatively new, each needs different work. "We’re going to treat these bridges as a whole and judge them collectively," Wertjes said, "But they won’t all look the same."

Britta Bloomberg, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, said the primary redesign review is to assure there is no adverse affect on the historic resource, in this case, the trench.

Bloomberg said the guidelines, based on Interior Department standards, are open to interpretation depending on the structure.

Because the typical bridge construction cost is $1 million to $1.5 million, Wertjes said plans are being made only five years in advance.