Column: Barriers fall as new bridge opens in St. Louis Park

A photo taken from a drone shows the Dakota-Edgewood Trail Bridge while under construction. The photo looks south toward Dakota Park and Peter Hobart Elementary School. The bridge is substantially complete, although a few details will be finished in the spring. (Photo courtesy of the city of St. Louis Park)

While it comes nowhere near the size and scope of the New River Gorge Bridge, the Golden Gate or the Stone Arch, it might be just as important for its intended purpose as a bridge over barriers.

I’m referring to St. Louis Park’s newly-opened Dakota-Edgewood Trail Bridge.

Add one more practical attraction to St. Louis Park’s list of impressive natural and man-made assets.

Several of us Eliot View Road neighbors gave the shiny new concrete, iron and stone structure, which still smells like a new car, a few test runs within hours of the city’s announcement on Nov. 19 that the bridge was “open.” And while a grumble or two about the $2.5 million price tag for just the bridge could be heard as walkers and cyclists examined it – with its 23-foot clearance over the BNSF Railway tracks – almost all agreed it represents a major safety and livability improvement for the Park. And the consensus among others as they descended the bridge’s long, gradual walkway (it takes seven minutes to cross it at a leisurely pace) was much more exuberant as they flashed two thumbs up.

The fence between north and south has fallen.

I’ll admit, I didn’t envision the results to be this impressive in person when I first saw plans for the Dakota-Edgewood Bikeway and Bridge Project a few years ago, with its total cost of $3.648 million for the bridge and the trail work leading up to it on each side. But now that it’s basically done (some landscaping and cosmetic chores around the edges will be finished in the spring), I think the aesthetically pleasing elevated walkway has actually surpassed its original purpose and is also a destination itself.

SLP was a city divided. Previously, there were only three safe crossings for pedestrians and bicyclists in the city’s entire four-mile length of the tracks. As a result, people were known to either crawl through or cut holes in the fence, or drop their bikes over the fence and illegally cross the rails, and, at times, cut in front of fast-moving locomotives.

This got to be risky, especially for Peter Hobart Elementary and St. Louis Park High kids. Now the new and accessible route has put jobs, education, businesses, recreation, buses and regional parks and trails closer to thousands of residents, all the while encouraging pedal and foot power. Minnesota has some fine trail bridges, along the Sakatah, Superior, Paul Bunyan, Root and Red Jacket trails. I would add the Dakota-Edgewood to that list.

From the apex of the span, add a bonus: The views of downtown Minneapolis, Dakota Park, Nelson Park, Hobart Elementary and the Edgewood businesses are worth a look.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that the seeds for the Dakota-Edgewood Bikeway and Bridge Project were planted years ago. Approved by the St. Louis Park City Council in 2019, it is a continuation of the Connect the Park Plan, set up in 2013 to create bikeways, sidewalks and trails throughout town. That effort grew from the earlier Active Living Plan, part of 2007’s Vision SLP.

My parting hope for the pristine bridge is that ruinous graffiti taggers stay away. It would be nice to hold on to that new-car smell for a little longer.

St. Louis Park resident Bruce Lindquist is a retired newspaper editor and a freelance writer. Send comments to brucelee4676@gmail.com.

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