St. Cloud bridge closure is a hassle for some driversby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota Department of Transportation engineers are planning the future of a major bridge in St. Cloud.
In March state inspectors shut down the 50-year-old DeSoto Bridge due to safety concerns. MnDOT engineers are expected to announce soon whether they'll repair the bridge, or tear it down and build a new one.
Meanwhile the bridge closure is forcing motorists in the St. Cloud area to find new ways to get around the city.
St. Cloud, Minn. — The DeSoto Bridge is a major Mississippi River crossing. Up until a few weeks ago 31,000 cars crossed the bridge every day.
Now motorists, like real estate agent Jesse Hopkins-Hoel, need to navigate a detour to make their way around town.
"I can avoid it most of the time," said Hopkins-Hoel. "But it's the times when I'm up against the clock, and I've got to get to a certain spot on the other side of the river that I'll get nailed by it,"
That happened to Hopkins-Hoel just a few nights ago.
He had to make an appointment on the east side of the Mississippi River. Normally he'd take the DeSoto Bridge. Instead he was forced to take a detour to another bridge three blocks to the north. Traffic was backed up, so he headed to yet another bridge on the city's south side, but it was gridlocked too.
"It was 25 minutes to get across that bridge, so I was 25 minutes late to my appointment," Hopkins-Hoel said.
Being tardy isn't something real estate agents want. But Hopkins-Hoel's clients have been understanding. Besides, the detour makes them late too.
There haven't been as many disruptions for Jason Welch. The school psychologist travels from St. Cloud 20 miles south to Becker about three days a week.
On the last leg of a recent afternoon commute home, Welch finds himself in the middle of stop and go traffic along the detour route. The traffic eventually moves along and flows smoothly, which Welch said is the way things have gone since the start of the detour.
"I think it adds a couple of minutes here and there. But I've been pleasantly surprised that it's gone as well as it has," Welch said.
Even if the detour becomes a hassle at some point, Welch keeps it in perspective. Especially since state officials have said the bridge closure is a precautionary move to prevent another bridge collapse like I35-W bridge in Minneapolis.
"If it was 10 minutes that be well worth it, if it was 20 minutes that'd be worth it. I don't think we ever want to see that happen again," Welch said.
St. Cloud's city engineer Steve Gaetz offers an optimistic assessment of the detour. Gaetz admits there have been traffic jams, but drivers are quick to report them via cell phone.
"We're monitoring the detour and as problems have developed, we've responded where we can. And we continue to do that," Gaetz said.
City crews have added turn signals at intersections and adjusted the timing of traffic lights to keep cars moving.
But Gaetz claims the biggest help has come from commuters who avoid the detour altogether and cross the river north of St. Cloud in the cities of Sauk Rapids or Sartell.
"Because the public has cooperated so well, and dispersed their trips throughout the community, the detour is working reasonably well. Without that cooperation it simply would not work," Gaetz said.
Like a lot of people in St. Cloud, Gaetz is anxious for MnDOT's announcement on what will happen next.
If the Desoto bridge is repaired, he says it would be summer before the span carries traffic. If the bridge is replaced on a fast track like the I35-W bridge, Gaetz expects work could be complete by fall of 2009.
But if construction of a new bridge goes through the standard bidding process, it could be the fall of 2011 before downtown St. Cloud regains its major crossing.
While things appear to be going smoothly now, a three and a half year detour might be a hassle for even the most patient of St. Cloud drivers.
- Morning Edition, 04/07/2008, 6:55 a.m.