Counties haggle over swing bridgeCall it a tale of two counties. Officials in Washington and Dakota counties are in a sort of tug of war over the swing bridge that spans the Mississippi River between St. Paul Park and Inver Grove Heights.
Call it a tale of two counties. Officials in Washington and Dakota counties are in a sort of tug of war over the swing bridge that spans the Mississippi River between St. Paul Park and Inver Grove Heights.
The “5600 Bridge,” as it is officially recognized by the state, once operated as the only private toll bridge in the state, but was shut down in 1999 when the private company quit paying taxes on the structure. Since then the state has seized control of the bridge and left it up to Washington and Dakota counties to manage each corresponding half of it. The bridge is closed to traffic, but some consider it an historic site.
Washington County officials said they want to remove the bridge. Dakota is considering keeping their half for an observational pier. A decision over what to do with the structure is likely to come in early June, but at the May 20 Washington County Board meeting, county officials made no bones about their preference to take the bridge down for good.
“We may have to recommend going it alone and removing our half,” said Washington County engineer Wayne Sandberg. “Or we could wait it out and see what Dakota wants to do, which means the bridge may stay up another year and that means another year of maintenance of our half and the whole safety plate to deal with.”
The safety issues center around pedestrian traffic on the bridge, which is not allowed, but county officials say happens any way. Recreational boats also tie up to the bridge structure, which Sandberg said county officials don’t like, but have a hard time of enforcing.
The St. Paul Park end of the swing bridge encroaches on property maintained by Marathon Oil Refinery and Sandberg told the county board the company does a good job of keeping people off the Washington County side of the bridge for security reasons. He said many people do access the Dakota County side.
“If you travel up there on a weekend on the Dakota County side there are a number of pedestrians still accessing this structure,” Sandberg said.
A decision could be made on the fate of the bridge in early June after a feasibility study on removal of the bridge is published.
Sandberg said the study states the removal costs may be as high as $5 to $6 million. Half of the costs for removal would be funded through state aid, and Dakota and Washington counties would be responsible for funding the remainder of the costs. The study also states that costs for reuse of the bridge could be $7 to $8 million, and if the bridge is reused in any capacity state aid may be lost.
Washington County Commissioner Myra Peterson questioned Dakota County’s desire to keep its half of the bridge up to use as an observational pier.
“Why would you want a pier that would come out directly opposite a major refinery and one of the few major refineries in the region,” she said. “There’s a lot of concerns for homeland security of this structure being so close to a refinery.”
Sandberg said Marathon would not officially oppose a decision by Dakota County to keep its half of the swing bridge intact, but refinery officials are in support of Washington County’s stance to take the entire bridge down.
Although the swing bridge has been out of operation for almost a decade, the structure does have some historical significance.
The bridge was authorized by Congress in 1890, and opened to traffic in 1895. There is a roadway on the bottom deck, and a railroad bed on the top deck. The railroad portion was closed in 1980. The bridge began operating as a toll bridge in 1983. The adjoining counties asked in 1990 that the toll be raised from 75 cents to $1, with the extra quarter going into an escrow account to pay for the bridge’s demolition. That never happened, and no fund was established.
In 1999, the company that purchased it quit paying taxes, and the land on both ends of the bridge went into tax forfeiture in 2001. In June 1999, the Minnesota Department of Transportation shut down the bridge because of “failure of fracture of critical members.”
In addition to pressure from Washington County and Marathon to take down the bridge, the U.S. Coast Guard has also issued orders to remove the bridge.
Sandberg said the county is hoping to resolve the issue by making a decision in June. Until then, he informed county commissioners of the ongoing safety issues posed by the structure.
“The railings of the bridge are crumbling,” he said. “It’s not meant to be a trail and people are still walking out there. It is very dangerous and we ask folks to stay off this structure.”
Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org