Minnesota's state transportation officials were fast—taking less than two weeks—in announcing their push to replace the I-35W bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on Aug. 1. Yet almost as quickly as officials could unfurl a rather raw preliminary plan of a 10-lane bridge, two lanes larger than the old bridge, and announce a shortlist of five contractors to design and build the replacement, Minneapolis community leaders and architects called for a unique bridge with a design that dignifies the disaster, which killed 13 people and injured many dozens.
The state has set a goal of completing the new bridge by December 2008 to restore a link that was carrying about 140,000 vehicles a day. State officials, who will be spending federal highway money, by law need the municipal consent of the Minneapolis City Council to help move the project along its fast-track schedule. State officials released a doctored site photo (right) showing the footprint of a 10-lane highway bridge and its ramps laid over the footprint of the previous bridge, but they did not release prospective elevations.
But Councilwoman Diane Hofstede, whose district borders the site, was among the first to tell the state that a standard-issue bridge should not be the fast fix to the city's new transportation crisis. She has not insisted that the bridge incorporate a memorial, though one could be placed nearby. Other council members have pressed for future light-rail access on the bridge.
“The public is extremely supportive of having something that truly is distinctive,” Hofstede tells ARCHITECT. She adds that the schedule, right now a breakneck 16 months to christening, should not be the only consideration. “I understand we need to have a bridge put into place,” Hofstede says. “But it's a 100-year bridge, and it's a different environment than when we built the previous bridge.”
Thomas DeAngelo, president-elect of AIA Minnesota and the president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Architectural Alliance, notes that the site's urban surroundings have gone from a rail and barge corridor to a public amenity, with park space, walkways, and riverside access. “The whole [bridge] underbelly is part of that public space,” DeAngelo says, and the new bridge's design should engage it.
But state and federal highway officials are feeling pressed to work quickly to move cars across the river, he says, and they may fear losing control of the schedule and the proposed budget, said to be at least $200 million, if they involve the public too intimately in making the design. (Within days of the bridge's collapse, the U.S. Congress voted to authorize $250 million for a new bridge, but at press time the money had not been appropriated. On Aug. 10, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters announced that $50 million in emergency federal funds would be immediately available to help with recovery efforts and plans for a new bridge.)
“They want to come out with a plan and do it the old-fashioned way of taking it in-house and deciding what's right for everybody,” DeAngelo says.
Boston-based bridge designer Miguel Rosales, who had not yet joined in any bids to win the project, says the state should evaluate all the types of structures that could span the site before settling on any specific design. “Many times, the geometry is fixed before you know what the bridge is going to look like, and it's hard to force a bridge into that geometry,” Rosales says. But the outcome depends largely on the public's interest and will to be part of the design process, he says: “If the people in Minneapolis want to have a nicer bridge, they will have to ask for it.”