The Washington Avenue Bridge is the only double-deck bridge in Minnesota. It carries cars and the METRO Green Line on its lower deck and pedestrians and bicycles on its upper deck. The bridge opened in 1965 as the University of Minnesota was expanding across the river to its new West Bank Campus.
The original Washington Avenue Bridge was built in 1884. It carried a horse car line, called the Interurban Trolley Line, over the Mississippi and the “Bohemian Flats” neighborhood on its banks. By the 1930s and 40s, the increased weight of streetcars and automobiles had caused the stability of the bridge to deteriorate, and the city began to consider building a new bridge.
Meanwhile, enrollment was increasing at the University of Minnesota. In the 1950s, while the University worked on plans for a new West Bank campus, architects and engineers began planning a new bridge.
The initial concept was inspired by the Ponte Veccio, a famous bridge in Florence, Italy that was built in the 14th-century. Houses and workshops were built atop the bridge, and in the 16th-century, the Duke of Florence added a covered corridor on top of those, so he could commute between his residences without being stopped by the crowds on the bridge.
When the bridge first opened, it was just a flat surface, but in early 1966, the pedestrian enclosure was completed. While many had hoped it would incorporate bookstalls, shops, and exhibits, the gallery concept could not be implemented because the bridge was already at its maximum dead-load capacity. Still, the enclosed walkway offered students and faculty protection from the wind during brutal Minnesota winters.
The Washington Avenue Bridge is a plate girder bridge. It was one of the first in the nation to be constructed of high-strength, low-alloy A441 steel in its superstructure, which allowed the connections to be welded, rather than riveted. For the first 35 years of its life, it was gray, but in 2000, it was painted in the University of Minnesota’s colors of maroon, white, and gold.
From 2011-2013, the structure was substantially renovated to accommodate the new METRO Green Line. Two lines of Warren trusses were added between the original plate girders, and two additional pier columns accommodate the additional loads on the bridge. The award-winning redesign maintained the overall look of the iconic bridge, but improved it to the point where it was no longer considered “fracture critical.”
Today, the Washington Avenue Bridge, while structurally sound, is again in need of upgrades and repairs. The University of Minnesota is currently considering several options, from minor repairs to major renovation.
Steel Plate Girder
Sverdrup & Parcel
Carries Bicycles and Pedestrians
Two Lanes of Washington Avenue; METRO Green Line Light Rail
When the idea of a “new” Washington Avenue Bridge was promoted to the public in the 1950s, moving walkways—or “walkalators,” as they were called— were proposed for the pedestrian level.