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This unnecessary pedestrian bridge is going to cost $6 million of public money

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How much would you pay for this bridge?

Check out this bridge! It’s a pedestrian bridge — meaning that it’s for pedestrians, walking “on foot” with their legs. For the sake of this post, say that you were in the market for a pedestrian bridge and, bear with me here, you wanted one that looked just like that one in the picture, but less pixelated and with a better-looking train under it.

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How much would you bid, on this pedestrian bridge that crosses a lightly-used two lane street and the corner of a train station?

One half of one million dollars?

One million dollars?

Two million dollars?

More than that? And yes, we are speaking about American dollars, currently one of the stronger currencies out there.

So…three million dollars? No?

If you would have stopped bidding at two million dollars, you would have lost the “auction” handily!

Location of Downtown East Station, planned pedestrian bridge

On Monday, the Transportation Committee of the Metropolitan Council (an organization the author of this post has gone out of his way to defend the existence of at length in his free time) voted to spend 6 million dollars on that pedestrian bridge! The need that has been expressed is that many people (thousands!) are expected to arrive at the new Vikings stadium via light rail transit on the Blue and Green Lines, a mode shift that should be celebrated. In the future, the extension of the Green Line will directly connect the Vikings stadium by rail transit to Vikings season ticket holder central, in the southwest metro, and maybe even more people will arrive via transit.

But is preventing thousands of Vikings fans from touching a Minneapolis street worth the cost of this pedestrian bridge?

Seeking to discover how onerous this proposition in fact was, I researched “pedestrian bridge costs” and it would appear that this is an expensive pedestrian bridge by many measures. The Martin Olav Sabo bike and pedestrian bridge over Highway 55 and the Blue Line, which is far larger than this bridge and also looks nice and is used by people everyday and is not completely unnecessary, cost $5.1 million.

The frequently used, not-completely-unnecessary Martin Olav Sabo bridge was a steal at $5.1 million.

Furthermore, this bridge is being built (by the Metropolitan Council, not the Vikings!) for Vikings games, which occur at home eight times per annum, plus the playoffs, maybe. A Vikings game is the only conceivable event for which this bridge will be used, because all other non-2018 Superbowl and 2019 Final Four events that this stadium will host will be so lightly attended that people will just cross the tracks at the light rail station rather than backtrack up some ramp. Unless they do something absurd like fence off the existing pedestrian route, which will probably happen in two years in order to justify the $6 million spent on the bridge.

In addition, the underground parking ramp sitting next to Downtown East Station is owned by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, and, in theory, would be a good candidate for redevelopment at some point, but it will be significantly impacted by this bridge, which will eat up much of its above ground area, and make it much less attractive for private sector redevelopment.

One option for not spending $6 million on this pedestrian bridge is that people could instead cross Chicago Ave., a fairly lightly used two lane street which separates the train station from the Vikings stadium. It is odd that 23rd Ave. Southeast, between the Gopher football stadium and Stadium Village station, is closed at the end of Gopher football games (and, currently, Vikings games) to facilitate pedestrian movement to and queuing for the Green Line, and that is all kosher, but this would not be.

Furtherestmore, are there better uses of $6 million of finite Metropolitan Council money?

Per a Finance & Commerce article,

Council member Jennifer Munt, who represents the Minnetonka area, agreed that the pedestrian connection is needed for safety reasons but said the Vikings should be paying more because the project will mostly benefit the team’s fans. She pointed to other system priorities — like shelters with light and heat in the region’s poorest areas — as better uses of $6 million in Met Council funds.

Council member Jennifer Munt from Minnetonka is correct that those things are better uses of $6 million. The International Space Station orbits between 330 and 435 kilometers above the Earth; if you stacked $6 million worth of pennies on top of each other, it would be more than twice as tall as that orbit. Alternatively, 1,000 bus shelters could be purchased, or perhaps 100 heated bus shelters. Or, if we were averse to spending money on buses for fear our constituents would not use them, we could put $6 million towards converting Downtown East Station to a center island station, so that people transferring betwixt the Blue and Green Lines would not need to walk across the tracks.

The full council will vote on this $6 million pedestrian bridge on April 22.

This post was written by Nick Magrino and originally published on streets.mn. Follow streets.mn on Twitter: @streetsmn.

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Comments (3)

Sparing no expense...

No expenditure of public funds is too great or too absurd, it seems, to benefit a privately owned professional sports business.

Why our public agencies, and many business leaders, roll over for this stuff is baffling.

And what are we getting? From my drives near or past the football palace, it appears to be urban blight under construction: a massive pole barn.

Back in the Dark Ages when I was a U of M student, Minneapolis would simply close University Avenue to vehicle traffic for the time when people were walking (yes, walking!) away from Memorial Stadium after football games.

For $6 million, Chicago Avenue could be closed for a couple of hours each of the few times there's a football game -- funding that would outlast the two or three decades before the place is torn down and replaced by yet another, fancier stadium.

Doing so would prevent erection of this walkway, a second civic eyesore.

We keep forgetting that sports are the most important

thing in the world, so important that school districts devote vast sums of money to them, community organizations raise funds for them, colleges give free-ride scholarships to students who are good at them, cable companies don't let you omit sports channels from your subscription, the typical newspaper devotes one-fourth of its space to sports, the typical local newscast devotes one-third of its time to sports, Super Bowl Sunday is treated as a Holy Day of Obligation, sports are considered THE cure for troubled youth, even non-troubled youth are expected to participate in a sport and their parents are expected to be at every single game, or else they're bad parents, college students who will blithely ignore their professors' suggestions about how to master a subject will treat their coach's dietary and workout recommendations as law, and people who think that art, books, and non-commercial music are "boring" will drone on endlessly with one another, rehashing games and evaluating players.

So why should we be surprised that a boondoggle of a stadium, a subsidy for a private business, is getting a multi-million dollar appendage?

Update

It has been mentioned in several places that comparing the height of a stack of 600 million pennies to the orbit of the International Space Station is an unhelpful metric for assessing the cost of this unnecessary $6 million dollar bridge. The author admits that this is perhaps an irrelevant comparison, as it will not be paid for in pennies, but rather in crisp, new dollar bills. A stack of 6 million dollar bills would be only 2,150 feet tall, equivalent to 2.71 IDS Centers. Thank you.