There are three general categories of Midtown Greenway bridges:
- Historic and new bridges spanning the Greenway’s trench segment;
- The new Martin Olav Sabo Bridge that takes trail users over Hiawatha Avenue;
- A proposed Mississippi River crossing.
Historic and new bridges spanning the Greenway's trench segment
The original bridges were constructed between 1912 and 1916 as the Midtown Greenway gorge was dug to put the active freight rail line down below street grade. This was done to eliminate safety issues related to the trains crossing streets at-grade every block in what were then the new and growing neighborhoods of south Minneapolis. The simple concrete art deco design of these bridges, and their regularity every block, are a defining characteristic of the Midtown Greenway. In fact, the Midtown Greenway corridor has been determined to be historically significant because of these bridges, the configuration of the corridor and its embankments, and the industrial history of the corridor’s use and adjacent buildings. The longest stretch of the Greenway where many of these original bridges remain intact is from 11th Avenue to Cedar Avenue.
Because these bridges are all nearly 100 years old the City of Minneapolis anticipates replacing most or all of them over the next 30 years or so. In recent years the Park and Chicago Avenue bridges were replaced. New bridges have a somewhat different feel, although their designers attempted to retain some of the feel of the older bridges, such as through simple concrete forms and the separation of the Greenway into thirds, a north third, a middle third, and a southern third, even if this separation is not accomplished with piers that come down to the trench floor. New bridges also afford opportunities to widen the Greenway trench floor to prepare the corridor for future rail transit alongside the trails, as well as anticipate additional stairways into the Greenway from the sidewalks above.
Finally, new bridges also present an opportunity to incorporate artful design, or to in fact be works of art in and of themselves, while respecting historic considerations.
More information on the historic bridges over the Greenway can be found in a City of Minneapolis Study of their condition and options for their removal or maintenance, including a summary of the study, the study itself, and an action to qualify and accept the study by the Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee on
June 5, 2007, as linked below.
Midtown Corridor Historic Bridge Study (8.2 MB pdf)
Midtown Corridor Final Report Summary (254 KB pdf)
Transportation and Public Works Committee action regarding Midtown Corridor Historic Bridge Study (39 KB pdf)
Martin Olav Sabo Bridge over Hiawatha Avenue
This fantastic bridge, pictured above in the photo by Tony Webster was paid for by a grant from the United States Congress as a result of advocacy by former Congressman Martin Sabo, with additional funding by Hennepin County. After bridge construction, the County gave the bridge to the City of Minneapolis to own and maintain it.
The slender bridge deck and cable-stayed design were eloquent responses to two design challenges: (1) there were no pier opportunities in the middle of Hiawatha Avenue; (2) the bridge needed to thread through a small vertical opening above the Hiawatha Light Rail Transit Line power supply lines structure, and underneath enormous Xcel Energy power lines.
At night the cobalt blue lights shining on the cables make them appear like lasers in the sky. To learn more, visit the County’s web site.
The bridge was officially renamed the Martin Olav Sabo bridge on May 18, 2008. To watch video of the ceremony, click here.
Federal and County funding has been secured for the Midtown Greenway to cross the Mississippi River. Initially, the plan called for putting the trails on the unused southern half of the bridge deck of the existing freight rail bridge that crosses the River at the latitude of 27th Street. This railroad bridge can be seen by looking north from the Lake Street/Marshal Avenue bridge, or by looking south from the Franklin Avenue bridge. That plan was problematic because the Canadian Pacific had concerns about public use of cycling and walking trail so close to an operating freight rail line on the bridge, and because the County felt that the bridge was not sound enough or repairable enough to support the trails long term.
Another solution would be a brand new bridge parallel to the existing freight rail bridge.
This concept ran into opposition from groups concerned about constructing yet another bridge across the sensitive River gorge, and because the estimated price tag of $8 million to $12 million would have required additional funders who could not yet be brought to the table. Groups expressing concern included the National Park Service and Friends of the Mississippi. Such a new bridge would likely require the involvement and approvals from three federal agencies, two cities, two counties, three neighborhood organizations, and a host of additional organizations.
A third solution could involve a new freight rail bridge constructed along the alignment of the existing bridge to offer passage for both the freight trains and the trails.
A fourth solution could involve waiting until freight rail no longer operates in this corridor, and then constructing a bike/ped bridge across the River here. The only users of the freight rail here are visiting three destinations along the Hiawatha corridor. If these entities choose to sell their land to developers, the freight trains could go away, but it is unknown if or when that might happen.