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Minneapolis’ 10th Ave bridge encapsulates all that is wrong with the transportation debate

Transportation preferences have changed and we should adapt. logo

Minnesota’s bridges are still out there aging, as the title of this opinion piece by Lori Sturdevant announces. When it hit the pages of the Star Tribune earlier this week Sturdevant makes the argument that transportation funding at the State level is needed or taxpayers will “pay a high price if they continue their habit of neglect.”

If only things were that simple.

Explaining infrastructure financing: 10th Avenue Bridge example

The problem with infrastructure funding can be boiled down to the example given in this Strib Opinion piece: the 10th Avenue Bridge.

The 10th Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis is a local street with a local bridge that serves local traffic. Yet, we find it necessary to criticize state legislators for not allocating money to support a project that has no state or regional significance. Herein lies the disconnect between how we think transportation financing works and how it actually works.

Different levels of government are responsible for different roadways. For example, you can pass a major Federal transportation bonding bill that will allocate money to highways, interstates or some choice transit projects, yet none of that money will trickle to local streets or bridges. Also, 57% of the funds would go to new projects and not maintenance.

Why can’t Minneapolis afford this bridge?

This bridge does need repair work. No question about it. Minneapolis claims it cannot afford the bridge. This is probably a true statement. So at this point, we should ask ourselves: why can’t Minneapolis afford this bridge?

In my mind, this is the billion dollar question.

Minneapolis can’t afford the bridge because it doesn’t want to. Why? Because Minneapolis doesn’t truly see the value to build it entirely by itself. This is reminiscent of the Chuck Marohn-ism of eating lobster. It goes something like, “I love lobster and will eat it every day if someone is willing to continually pay 75% of my bill.” This is the position in which the City of Minneapolis finds itself.

Prior to the construction of the adjacent I-35W Bridge it would have made financial sense, but transportation preferences have changed and we should adapt. It might sound crazy, but what if we radically changed how we view and use this bridge?

Does Minneapolis need the 10th Avenue Bridge, or what’s the real problem?

Does Minneapolis actually need the 10th Avenue Bridge? When I-35W was non-existent during its reconstruction in 2007-2008, travel times weren’t drastically affected. So, why would 10th Avenue be any different? I mean, take a look at this four-lane road on StreetView:

The Strib op ed states if there is no transportation bill this year, the 10th Avenue project could grow from a $42 million repair job to a $100-million-plus replacement. I reject this claim. If we blindly rebuild 10th Avenue, then yes. But, if we look at other options, then no! Other options are available and can yield a better result.

I vote we close the bridge, or drastically reduce its car capacity and add another low-impact bike/ped connection between the two banks of the University campus. This would be much cheaper and have far more benefit.

We can’t keep throwing money at a problem without a good feedback loop. The four lane local street/bridge combination has likely run its course, and let’s seriously re-evaluate if this is what we actually need or want.

This post was written by Nathaniel M. Hood and originally published on Follow on Twitter: @streetsmn.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by John Appelen on 05/07/2015 - 10:53 am.


    I especially love the lobster quote.

  2. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 05/07/2015 - 11:32 am.

    How we finance local government is an issue

    I have no opinion on this particular local bridge as I don’t know enough about it, but I do have a strong opinion about how we finance local government. When a city like Minneapolis only has property taxes to finance local projects like this bridge rehab/replacement, it makes these kinds of projects un-affordable. Most communities in this state simply do not have the property tax capacity to pay for these kinds of expensive infrastructure projects. In addition, property values bear little if any relationship to the value of the project or who uses the project, nor do property values bear any relationship to the ability of the property owner to pay those taxes. Cities and counties need to be given greater access to resources other than the property tax if you are going to expect them to bear the cost of expensive projects like these.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/07/2015 - 12:37 pm.


      Is there something that prevents Mpls from selling bonds for municipal projects?

      • Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 05/07/2015 - 05:35 pm.

        How are the bonds being repaid?

        As a general rule, the revenue source that the city will have is property taxes – all bonding does is add the expense of interest to the cost of the project. For transportation projects cities and counties have been looking to state and federal resources – this article seems to argue against access to those resources.

  3. Submitted by jody rooney on 05/07/2015 - 12:07 pm.

    Why don’t they make this a CSAH bridge?

    If the bridge becomes a county bridge then it will be eligible for state and federal funds.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/07/2015 - 12:08 pm.

    For those who hate driving freeways, closing off a local-street bridge to automobile traffic would represent a true loss of mobility in the city. Particularly the elderly, who also can’t risk falling off a bike anymore, and no longer have twenty-year-old bones and muscles to walk to their various destinations.

    It’s unnecessary to present only two options here: get Minneapolis to find huge amounts of infrastructure money through its property taxes (I’m betting the author here doesn’t pay property taxes directly), or close the 10th Ave. bridge to vehicles that are not bikes. (I wonder if the author owns a car)

    In other words, this is an abstract piece that has almost nothing to do with real people’s lives.

    • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 05/07/2015 - 03:08 pm.

      So You’re Vote is for More Taxes?

      What other scenarios are there? Maintain and rebuild the bridge as needed using only MPLS money, or… don’t. It’s seems clear state and federal funding isn’t coming, so should we invest in this bridge as Minneapolis residents or should we not?

      (He even notes that maybe a 2-lane bridge would be a better, cheaper option)

  5. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/07/2015 - 01:27 pm.


    I see parallels between this bridge and the 3rd Street-Kellogg bridge in Saint Paul. Recall, the outside lanes of the bridge are cantilevered and may be unsafe to use. Fine, don’t use them. Have one lane going west into downtown. That’s plenty, and won’t lead to back ups even during the AM rush since there is not a signal light at the west end of the bridge. Use two lanes east bound, with the much-needed right turn lane. No need to spend $40M on a new bridge.

    Currently, as a temporary measure Public Works has two lanes west bound and only one lane east bound. This leads to some back ups at the east end during rush hour. Is this being done to make the situation seems worse than it needs to be?

    If the bridge is replaced, five lanes is expensive over kill. Three lanes, with and additional right turn lane on the east end, is sufficient to carry traffic. The current bridge was over built, no need to make the same mistake. Save the dough and use it elsewhere.

    However, now that Kathy Lantry is head of Public Works, all hope is probably lost.

  6. Submitted by Eric Johnson on 05/07/2015 - 01:32 pm.

    You need to understand the local use of the bridge

    Nathaniel – The 10th Ave Bridge is not just a redundant bridge like you think. The bridge supports a lot of local traffic across the river for the University of Minnesota, the students on bike and walking as well as local residents.

    The amount of traffic that would be affected by not having this bridge is huge.

    Do you think that bicycles should go on the 35W bridge where no non-motorized traffic is allowed? How about all the traffic that would have to get on the bridge at Univ and off at Washington Ave or visa-verse just to cross the river? The traffic congestion on 35W at the river area is already bad during peak times and to add more to it would be a disaster.

    People getting on at Univ trying to merge onto the highway and people getting off at Washington and going to hwy 94 are criss-crossing with backups already – add a bunch of students with less driving experience and there will be countless accidents.

    A bicyclist would have a 4 mile detour to get across the river to get to class at a minimum plus it would be higher traffic routes. A pedestrian would be worse. So a student would then want to drive, have to pay for parking (limited space at the U) or pay to take a bus.

    This bridge is not extra and since you are apparently not well informed I suggest you should not be writing articles without doing some basic research before doing so. This just makes you look to be lacking in intelligence.

    • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 05/07/2015 - 02:56 pm.

      Lacking in Intellegence, or Lacking in Reading

      He did note that if we do replace the bridge it should be with bike/ped infrastructure, or maybe 2 lanes total instead of 4.

      Detour is four miles? What about bridge number 9? Google informs me this is an additional half mile.

      If the bridge is taking that much stress off of 35W then it is a state and federal amenity and should be paid for by these organizations instead of MPLS taxpayers alone. (Kinda the point of the article is funding sources)

      Finally, you do realize the U runs a free to all bus system, right? And additionally, many off campus students buy a UPass, unlimited rides for under $100 per semester. I don’t see the horror in having these people using a 2 lane bridge instead of four, or even using the existing bus system.

      • Submitted by Eric Johnson on 05/07/2015 - 03:24 pm.

        I did forget about bridge 9 but it is pedestrian and bike only

        10th Ave bridge is currently a two lane bridge for cars with space for bike paths.

        Still the bridge is the best for local traffic and that does not change.

        I stand firm that he did not do any research or thought process.

        He never considered that the 35W bridge is a Freeway and not a local connection where putting all that on/off traffic would cause issues.

        • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 05/07/2015 - 03:54 pm.

          So Redacting Paragraph Number 5

          Its driving surface is 62′ wide, using 2′ curb reaction distances (standard) this gives us 4.8333 lanes (4 wide lanes). It’s built as a four lane bridge, and from a person who drove over it yesterday, at least NB there are 2 lanes, so maybe 3 lanes, but definitely not 2.

          Yes it is still the best option if it’s available, but is that best option worth $100 Million of MPLS money? How much state funding? Federal?

          Would it cause issues? I thought adding the double entrance exit lanes on 35W was specifically for this type of connection.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/07/2015 - 09:59 pm.

    Simple answers to some less than intelectual questions

    The city council an mayor authorize a certain level of (fiscally responsible) bonding every year. The CLIC a group of volunteers, ~ 33 appointed citizens gather and review all the projects that the city departments, sewer, water, paving etc. etc. deem important. They use various rating schemes to determine what they consider most in need, yes these departments typically have civil, electrical, etc. engineers that do this work. The CLIC evaluates the projects ~ 56 this year and assigns them a score, the score is used to determine if the project gets bonding funding. There are always more requests than money. The CLIC report is a recommendation to the City council and Mayor.
    Sorry to disappoint, but there is no great Minneapolis conspiracy to make other folks pay for our bills. Although we can be pretty confident that not every vehicle that goes across the 10 Ave Bridge (Project BR111) in 2012-2016 CLIC report, is a Minneapolis tax paying resident.
    Yes bridges are expensive: So are Fighter planes and aircraft carriers.

  8. Submitted by David Markle on 05/10/2015 - 05:19 pm.

    Close the bridge to automobiles?

    Closing the 10th Avenue bridge to automobiles would mean that as a West Banker I would have to get on the 35W freeway or go all the way to the 3rd Avenue bridge in order to drive across the river to the Marcy Holmes neighborhood. (Not that I don’t do a lot of walking, too.) Keep in mind that the final version of the Green Line plan essentially ended that connection eastbound.

  9. Submitted by Britter Ritter on 07/19/2017 - 11:07 pm.

    Short Sight

    You are very short-sighted. This was a major route until the streets of the West Bank were re-routed in a confusing fashion. It is very much needed as an alternate route, and for pedestrians and cyclists, horses, segways and whatever. It is infrastructure, and tearing it down would probably cost more than fixing it. It is also of monumental beauty. Young people need to ask more questions and consider the past before jumping to judgements. Disruptive, indeed.

  10. Submitted by Britter Ritter on 07/19/2017 - 11:08 pm.


    If it is such a problem, close half the lanes and turn it into a restaurant-bridge, with fine dining complementing the fine views.

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