When I was a college student here, I never gave much thought to the Interstate Bridge. I suppose that was because I lived on the Minnesota side, and didn’t have to cross the bridge unless I was going to Wisconsin to frequent one of that state’s many taverns. When I got married and began living here full time, I had the chance to go out on the river, and see the bridge as an architectural marvel, not just a road to fun. I also began to see it as a far better structure than its predecessor. I had not been over the old High Bridge here in Winona, but John once took me across the old bridge in Wabasha, which about made me swear off bridges forever. It was a rickety-looking structure that wound around at the approach to the streets of Wabasha like a snail shell. I was deathly afraid we would meet a semi on one of the tightly rounded corners of that bridge, as it didn’t appear able to accommodate the meeting of even two regular cars. I begged to not repeat the trip.
After we started the paper, and were doing stories on the history of Winona, a man—a Mr. Peterson—came to visit me to ask if I would do a story about the building of the bridge across the Mississippi River here in Winona in the early 1940s. He had been on one of the crews building the bridge structure, and had wonderful photos of the process. After seeing them, I had a new appreciation for what the bridge signified in terms of our human impact on our surroundings. It truly was a unique symbol of this historic crossing of the river to connect the two sides of the United States bisected by the huge Mississippi River.
One day, one of my brothers-in-law was taking in the view from the balcony patio of what was then Finn and Sawyers Restaurant (now Godfathers) on the riverfront. Those assembled were admiring the sun setting over the main channel, and, he thought, the latticed bridge, black against the sky, like a stained glass window. But among the murmurings of those there, a man’s voice could clearly be heard saying, “This would be so beautiful if that bridge weren’t in the way.”
But it isn’t in the way, is it? It is the way! And through all my years here, it never seemed to be in danger of not being the way. Until, that is, it was closed by the government on June 3, 2008, and we were cut off from Wisconsin, and they from us. In order to get to work, or to shopping, or to any activities on the other side of the bridge, we were forced to take a ferry and buses. The Winona Post had to be delivered to our Wisconsin carriers by pontoon boat coming from the Winona Marina. It was a thoroughly horrible time.
I still believe that rather than being a safety move, the closing of the bridge was a political move. Politicians and hopefuls all wanted the voters to think that their safety was number one, when really, all people wanted to do was cross the river to earn a paycheck. The bridge has stood without falling into the Mississippi these ensuing four years, although not without being maligned by the various Chicken Littles among us.
I welcome the construction of a new bridge next to the old one, even though it will cost us much, in dollars and loss of housing, parking, and business while and after it is built. I welcome it just to stop hearing about how dangerous the old one is, and how slow-moving and labyrinthine government planning is.
I hope I won’t be sorry to admit I am looking forward to an additional bridge. I hope it will be a good thing for all in the region.