Preliminary LRT prep work for key Washington Avenue Bridge nears

Light rail planners say the Washington Avenue Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River and connects the University of Minnesota’s east and west bank campuses, will remain open to drivers and pedestrians during Central Corridor light rail construction.

There will be occasional closings and lane restrictions, though, as workers prepare the bridge for the light rail system that will connect the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

According to the light rail planners at the Metropolitan Council, the first phase of bridge work starts soon:

From January through April, Hennepin County will install bracing to stabilize the columns supporting the upper pedestrian deck. Pedestrian traffic will be maintained throughout construction in its current restricted condition.  Full use of the upper pedestrian deck is expected after April. However, some temporary restrictions may be necessary during construction of the lower auto deck beginning in 2010.

Beginning next summer, the Central Corridor project will do much of the traffic mitigation work on Washington Avenue, requiring closure of the future transit/pedestrian mall from Pleasant to Walnut streets. This work will allow the project to close the mall during subsequent LRT track construction beginning in 2010.

In 2010, the LRT project will begin work on the roadway level of the bridge to add elements for structural redundancy because the design of the main girders doesn’t meet current codes. Construction of the improvements will be in conjunction with the retrofitting of the lower auto deck to accommodate one pair of tracks and one lane of traffic in each direction.

During construction, vehicle traffic on the bridge will be restricted to one lane in each direction, similar to the final traffic flow on the bridge once LRT tracks are installed. Temporary closures of the bridge to all traffic may be necessary for critical construction activities, but these closures will be kept to a minimum and generally occur when traffic levels are low, such as nights and weekends.

The project’s cost estimate includes $30 million to construct modifications to accommodate LRT. It does not include modifications to the pedestrian deck, which will be funded by Hennepin County. Costs to improve the bridge beyond those required for the LRT project will be the financial responsibility of others.

For more information about the project, visit the Central Corridor site here.

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