Crossing the Wabasha Street Bridge today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the only way to get to the other side was by ferry. But it wasn’t until just a year after Minnesota became a state that the St. Paul Bridge, as it was called in 1959, opened at this historic site. Built for wagons and pedestrians, it was first vital artery from St. Paul to the West Side. Like the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, it was a toll bridge, and cost wagons 25 cents.
The bridge was a Howe truss design, and modern for its day. However, it was constructed almost entirely of timber, and before long, it began to require repairs. Over the first three decades of its life, the bridge was rebuilt and rebuilt again—first one side and then the other, in wood and then in iron, as a Howe truss and then as the more innovative Pratt truss.
Eventually, the steadfast cantilever deck truss bridge that many of us still remember opened in 1889. The bridge, by then known as the Wabasha Street Bridge, served the city for 100 years and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. But, it grew increasingly more costly to repair, and the city finally decided to replace it.
St. Paul wanted a signature bridge to be located at the site, and the new Wabasha Street Bridge opened in 1998 to much fanfare. Mayor Norm Coleman released two rehabilitated bald eagles at the event, and pedestrians received free ice cream.
The bridge is actually two separate bridges, built side by side. It is a segmental concrete box girder design, which made building easier because no falsework was required during construction. The bridge was built with pedestrians in mind, with wide sidewalks on the outside of the bridge, six overlooks, and a staircase down to Raspberry Island. It offers beautiful views of St. Paul and the Mississippi River at sunset.
Its color scheme reflects St. Paul’s heritage, with a sandstone color similar to many downtown historical buildings, terracotta railings the same color as the rooftops, and ornamental overlooks in a green patina that matches the dome of the St. Paul Cathedral.
The bridge has won awards, including the Federal Highway Administration’s Excellence in Highway Design Award and the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers 2001 Seven Wonders of Engineering in Minnesota award.
In 2002, it was renamed the Wabasha Street Freedom Bridge in 2002 to commemorate the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Concrete Segmental Box Girder
Toltz, King, Duvall, Anderson & Associates, Inc.
Four Lanes of Wabasha Street
When Minnesota became the first state in the Midwest to legalize same-sex marriage, dozens of pride flags lined the Wabasha Street Bridge, which was temporarily renamed the “Freedom to Marry Bridge.”