Mn/DOT selected the least expensive of three designs approved for the new Interstate bridge. Some feel it is also the least aesthetically pleasing. “That’s one the most god-awful things I’ve seen in my entire life,” said Heritage Preservation Commission Chairman and Bridge Public Advisory Committee member Bob Sebo. Sebo wanted to see the design do more to match the silhouette of the old bridge. Others echoed similar concerns. “There will be no view upstream when coming across the old bridge,” said Dana Johnson of Fastenal, noting that the deck of the new bridge will sit higher than the old bridge. “It will be like looking at a concrete wall,” said another area resident.
Mn/DOT has recommended a boxy substructure made of concrete, aptly named a box girder, to support the proposed bridge. Some of it will be hidden behind the old bridge, when viewed from downstream, with the midsection protruding beneath the deck of the old bridge. That bridge type will cost $14 million less than cable stay and tied arch designs that would line up with the profile of the existing bridge. A State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) study of the bridge types describes the tied arch and cable stay designs as “very graceful and aesthetically pleasing structures,” while the box girder “can produce a neat and clean structure.”
The girder may not be SHPO’s aesthetic first choice, Ward told the committee, but “they’ve concurred that our recommended bridge type meets Department of Interior requirements.” Winona Mayor Mark Peterson responded, pointing out, “But they’ve but also said that the other two designs meet the Secretary of the Interior’s requirements.”
Aesthetic upgrades to the recommended plan, such as ornamental rails to provide a view over the bridge wall, tinted piers or other color treatments, Mn/DOT said, would be limited by the project budget.
Technically, the concrete box girder design is not finalized, but changing now would cause a significant delay, according to Mn/DOT project officials. In any case, a final decision on the bridge type will be made by the Federal Highway Administration based on Mn/DOT’s recommendation.
Ward also announced that Mn/DOT will be accepting nominations for a Visual Quality Committee to provide recommendations on “colors, features, retaining treatments,” and other such aesthetic details.
Winona Chamber of Commerce President Della Schmidt recommended that the committee consider the barrier on the outer edge of the new bike path. That barrier is expected to be 45 inches tall and could be solid concrete. Schmidt and others suggested making the solid section shorter and using a rail for the upper section to allow pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists alike to see the river while crossing the bridge.
Schmidt also asked for “bump-outs,” or broader viewing areas where cyclists and pedestrians could stop to enjoy the vista without being in the way of traffic.
“Most of the longer-span bridges we’ve built over the last ten years have had at least one of those,” a representative of the bridge consultant firm said. Mn/DOT officials nodded silently.