The Midtown Greenway Coalition has a dream. Members want to extend the Greenway bike trail – six miles of blissful carlessness in the heart of Minneapolis – to St. Paul. Imagine biking straight from the Greenway, onto Ayd Mill Road, along the river into downtown St. Paul.
The coalition’s done much more than imagine. It has picked an existing bridge to serve as that essential link between the cities. The Short Line Bridge over the Mississippi River is a rusty relic with little remaining train traffic. The coalition is hoping it can persuade Hennepin County and the Canadian Pacific Railway to help them make it much more.
Executive Director Soren Jensen says it’s going well. Last year, thanks to donations of all sizes from hundreds of people, the coalition raised about $45,000 to conduct a study on what it would take to add a bike trail to the bridge. The way they see it, they have the following options to move forward.
One: Convincing the railroad to stop using the bridge. That’s a big “if,” but it’s a relatively cheap option if the coalition can pull it off. The estimated cost of repurposing the bridge would be $7.4 million, according to the report – not including the additional costs of completing the trail.
Two: Bikers could share the bridge with the railroad and rehab it so it’s safe for pedestrians. There’s only track on one side, which leaves a good 20 feet for a bike path and a fence on the other. But that’s only if the railroad would be willing to lend them a hand. And that's more of a $9.9 million option.
Three: Build a new bridge, exactly like the old one. It’s a fond dream, but an expensive one (like, $27.5 million’s worth of expensive), and there is the chance it would interrupt rail service.
Four: The option Jensen finds most exciting – build a bridge on top of the existing bridge. Bikers could gaze down at the misty Mississippi below, lofty and safe while trains pass beneath them. The new addition would strengthen the old bridge structure beneath. That would cost about $22.4 million.
It’s all purely hypothetical without approval from the railway and Hennepin County. But the point is, it can be done. Now all that remains is convincing enough people to stand up and ask for it.
To that end, the coalition is back on the fundraising grind. Using a new $10,000 grant from the Rails to Trails Conservancy, Jensen is hoping to drum up more support.
Part of it will be spent on getting the word out and continuing to organize, but there are more studies to conduct too. For example: Determining what this extended bike path would mean for St. Paul’s economic development.
“The Greenway has paid for itself countless times over and over again,” Jensen says. Maybe the same would be true of a new path to its sister city.
Jensen is definitely excited, but quick to temper expectations. This is a marathon, he says – not a sprint.
“I certainly don’t want people to think there’s going to be a new bridge next year.”
But as long as a low, steady flame remains lit under the coalition’s feet, there’s a chance that moving between cities could be safer, easier, and more fun than ever before.