The Intercity Bridge—more commonly known as the Ford Parkway Bridge—spans the high and scenic bluffs of the Mississippi. It connects 46th Street in Minneapolis to Ford Parkway in St. Paul and, at 90 years old, is one of the largest reinforced-concrete bridges in the world.
Building began on the bridge in 1925, just after Henry Ford built his new, state-of-the-art assembly plant in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul. He thought the location was perfect, due to the cheap hydroelectric power and the massive silica deposits underneath the site—ideal for making glass windshields. That meant that the new bridge would be constructed just upstream from Lock and Dam No. 1.
Since Ford planned to employ 14,000 workers at his new plant, a new bridge at that location meant an easier commute for Minneapolis residents. On the St. Paul side of the river, it was a means of promoting the development of the Highland Park area. And so, the bridge became a joint effort between the two cities.
Building it was a massive project. It first required the completion of a large concrete plant on the west side of the river and a 1,900-foot cableway with moveable towers for dropping concrete and materials at specific locations on the job site.
The design fell to St. Paul bridge engineer Martin Sigvart Grytbak and is considered his major life work. It included three huge, 300-foot main arches to cross the river and two 139-foot arches to reach the abutments on the river bluffs. The resulting bridge is beautiful, built with art deco lines, arcs and curves molded into the concrete, and stretching across the Mighty Mississippi at its widest and deepest point in the Twin Cities.
In 1972-1973, the bridge was re-decked and widened, and many of the ribs were replaced, but this did not detract from the historic significance of the bridge. Its design was considered important enough for it to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. In 2004, the bridge was rebuilt from the arches up and widened again. Vintage-style lighting and railings were added, along with a curb and guardrail between the traffic and the sidewalk.
When the Intercity Bridge opened in 1927, it was the height of the Roaring 20s, and the new Ford Plant was busy pumping out Model Ts. No one knew then that the Great Depression would close the Ford Plant the following year. It wasn’t until 1935 that production at the plant was back in full swing, and it wasn’t until after World War II that the Highland Park neighborhood experienced substantial development.
The number of employees at the Ford plant never came close to those pre-depression estimates, but the Intercity Bridge still stands as an example of the golden age of reinforced-concrete, arch-bridge design and construction in the Twin Cities. Today, it is a key link in the Twin Cities transportation network and provides a beautiful view of the high and scenic river bluffs.
Reinforced Concrete, Open Spandrel, Rib Arch
Martin Sigvart Grytbak
Four Lanes of 46th Street (Minneapolis); Ford Parkway (St. Paul)
The Ford Parkway Bridge was a joint effort between Minneapolis and St. Paul, with both cities splitting the $1,324,000 cost to built it.