The other bridge

One of the largest construction projects in state history is about to end.


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With little fanfare, one of the largest public works projects in Minnesota history is about to end with the opening of the final span of the Wakota Bridge over the Mississippi River. The project started in 2002, before the election of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and included the rebuilding of Interstate 494 and Highway 61 in the East Metro.

But it was the bridge project that got the most attention. The old bridge was one of the largest traffic bottlenecks in the Twin Cities, and the decision by then transportation commissioner Carol Molnau to halt construction after the first span was built in order to rebid the project (the company that had the contract got the new one as the same price), was one of the factors cited in the Legislature’s sacking of Molnau.

When the I35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, the Wakota Bridge became the second banana.

The new bridge, connecting Newport with South St. Paul, doesn’t have the spiffy architectural delights that its Minneapolis cousin has. It probably won’t win any design awards, either. But it’s not without its hidden charms, such as the piers in the water.

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Most people won’t see these sorts of views, however. And many didn’t notice a lot of the workers who made the bridge. But they were dangling above open water in January winters, and riding steel during thunderstorms in July. They didn’t get any news attention, because reporters were busy documenting the efforts of their counterparts in Minneapolis. (image via MnDOT)

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At the site today, the workers were scrambling like a Minnesotan trying to get ready for a graduation party in the garage. A spokesman for MnDOT says if it doesn’t rain, the bridge will open before the July 20 target.

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  • About time. But will this happen before, at the same time as, or after the 494/694 work is completed? Or will be trading one bottle neck for another?

  • It may not be as spiffy as the35W bridge, but I bet under the right conditions, it will show its charm…

  • Bob Collins

    Slightly before and also at the same time. The closed ramps on 494/694 into Woodbury are to reopen, from what I hear, within the next few weeks. That project is also ahead of schedule.

  • Jared

    Great that this is finally nearing completion. The construction took way to long, but I hope this eliminates the current bottleneck to get across the river. Question, did they add a pedestrian crossing as well?

  • Bob Collins

    The Westbound side has a sidewalk/bike lane with two or three excellent “bump outs” where you can stop and enjoy the river (thugh benches would be nice). It connects to the levee bike trail .

  • Alanna in MI

    Thanks Bob! I’ve been interested in this project since my brother and his family moved to Woodbury. I never used to drive on that stretch of 494, but going between my uncle’s place and my brother’s, that’s the easiest way. I haven’t minded the construction, but I don’t drive it during rush hour either. I’m also a civil engineer who loves bridges, haha. I believe the new bridge has a quiet beauty that fits the area.