(MPR photo by Bill Alkofer)
If you didn't know the obvious significance of the new I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, would you pay much attention to driving across it? Does it strike you as an award-winning design or is it just another slab of pavement across the road?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and engineers. The American Public Works Association has given the bridge an award in its Disaster or Emergency Construction and Repair category. The group cited the 11 months it took to build the bridge (who knew the Twin Cities would adapt to life without it so easily?), the eco-friendly materials, and some construction techniques that "set the standard" for bridge work.
Let's just say it didn't win in the bathing suit competition. I mentioned on Mary Lucia's show on The Current on Monday that for all its design and construction innovation, it doesn't set the spine to tingling.
"Come on, guys! It's kind of gorgeous," listener Laura Brown said. "Have you seen it from, say, the Stone Arch Bridge at night? Muah, it's lovely; a good addition to our night-time light pollution."
"We have a tendency to build bland bridges and so it's kind of nice when we get an attractive bridge every now and again," historian Denis Gardner told MPR's Tom Crann when the bridge opened last fall. He acknowledged, though, that the bridge was the chance "to do something unique and we didn't do that."
The bridge is not entirely new to awards. The Associated General Contractors named it "most significant construction project of 2008" last March. The Construction Innovation Forum nominated it for a "Nova Award" for the 300+ sensors in the bridge that monitor its condition, the use of LED lighting, and the eco-friendly cement which removes pollutants from the air when ultraviolet rays from the sun hit it.
But for sheer beauty -- especially since you can walk across it -- try St. Paul's Wabasha bridge. It has a different look and feel from a vehicle, walking, or from the river. And for "spine tingling," walk down the stairs that allow you to see the river below. Now that's a bathing suit! Or at least a good case of vertigo.
I find the new bridge to be quite beautiful. I love looking at it at any time, day or night. This may be because I'm a civil engineer, and I can find any bridge to be beautiful, but I also think it's great from an engineering standpoint. The Wabasha Bridge is nice to look at, but it's not a highway bridge. It also wasn't a disaster/emergency bridge. They had time to design it and decorate it. The I-35W bridge needed to be built in a hurry. When you take that into consideration, the engineers did a good job to make it safe, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing.
The new bridge is okay, but by no means great. I guess maybe it's the best that could be done on short notice. It was a hurried project, given that everyone thought there would be a traffic nightmare without that bridge.
Of course, the traffic nightmare never really happened. With an extra lane on I-94, and an upgraded MN 280, the bridge is almost redundant.