Our visit to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge was the first time I had been up close to the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and it was in rough shape:
It wasn’t long until I was Googling and it turned out that I wasn’t the only one interested in this bridge’s history.
What is currently referred to as the “Old Cedar Avenue Bridge” is actually the Long Meadow Bridge. From what I found, the original structure was built in 1890 but updated in 1920 and was actually the second bridge to be built across that portion of the Minnesota River. The original bridges were the Long Meadow Bridge which had a swing span, and to the south was the Minnesota River Swing Bridge. The Bridge Hunter has great photos from MnDOT showing the Swing Bridge open and an aerial shot of the site before the current Highway 77 Cedar Avenue Freeway bridge was constructed.
The Long Meadow Bridge’s swing bridge and trestles were replaced in 1920 with a series of fixed spans, which is how we know it today:
It was a major access for southern Minnesota communities, connecting Apple Valley, Bloomington and smaller towns with Minneapolis. It became Cedar Avenue / Highway 77 in 1949. When the Cedar Avenue Bridge was built in 1979, traffic from the Long Meadow Bridge and Cedar Avenue was rerouted to this new freeway bridge and the Minnesota River swing span was torn down.
Despite the new freeway bridge, The Long Meadow Bridge continued being used by cars until it was deemed unsafe in 1993 and was then closed to all but pedestrians and bicyclists. By the early 2000s, it was declared unsafe for them as well, but an industrious local bicycle club raised donations to fix the bridge deck with sheets of plywood. That did not solve the problem for long and the bridge was barricaded closed in 2002. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The happiest news that I came across while exploring this history was that in September 2013, the Bloomington City Council voted to fix this historic bridge ending a long debate about what to do with it. $12.7 million was set aside to rehabilitate this structure and preserve its history. John A. Weeks has incredible photos that show the sad state this bridge is in, it will be quite a job rehabilitating it. But if everything goes according to plan, construction will begin in 2015 and the bridge could reopen to hikers and cyclists by late Spring 2016. More information on this rehab project can be found here.