I attended the MnDOT open house at Roseville High School last night, or I should say I walked through the job-fair like gym full of MnDOT employees. I was pleased to see that there were folks asking all sorts of questions, but disappointed that it wasn’t a town hall style meeting, however, that is only because I like arguments. The format used was likely a much better way for “nice” Minnesotans to engage in dialog.

As I was walking out, a reporter stopped me and I gave him this, more or less, paraphrased statement:

“Ben Edwards, an Arden Hills resident who crossed the 35W bridge every day on his way to work in Eden Prairie, said he didn’t want Minnesota “to miss an opportunity to do something special with this bridge,” including a unique design and transit options. He said that his commute was no picnic before the collapse and isn’t much different now, and that he’d be willing to wait for a bridge that did more than increase vehicle capacity.”

You can read the full article at the Star Tribune site.

It sounds as though, there are at least some signs of compromise showing up from the Governor’s camp regarding future support for light rail lines over the new bridge. It sounds a little bit like parents telling their kids that they can stop at the go-cart track “on the way back”, hoping they shut up and forget about it.

I, for one, believe the $400,000 daily cost of not having the bridge is a bit of a farce. I travel this way often and my commute has not really been affected. We are very lucky that Highway 280 is there, and it’s conversion to a temporary freeway has gone rather seamlessly. Pawlenty warns that allowing for future light rail lines on the bridge would increase the cost:

“It will be a fair amount of additional money” that would not be reimbursed by federal dollars”

Minnesotans have had some aversion to new taxes lately due to the nice propaganda machine that is the GOP, but if you step back and look at the planned transportation projects and the new bridge project, the big picture becomes clearer.

The anticipated Central Corridor project which will link downtown Minneapolis with downtown Saint Paul by way of the University of Minnesota campus and University Avenue includes plans to have light rail trains travel over the Washington Avenue bridge. This is a bridge I walked over many times in my days and “the U” and it will need significant work to be able to handle the additional weight of light rail trains. In fact when you compare my estimate of $150 million (out of my ass) with another $170 million to build a tunnel near Coffman Union on campus (that figure is not out of my ass but I cannot find where I read it just now) you are looking at over $300 million in additional spending on light rail. The extra half year and $100 million on this new bridge, that we have to build anyway, starts to look like a bargain for the tax payer. Don’t you think that if we are really building a bridge that has a 100-year lifespan, we should spend 100 days considering our options and what we can anticipate for transportation needs for the next century?

OK, the last thing I want to address is the idea that this is just a highway bridge and it should rebuilt without thought to aesthetics. Our state could certainly use another icon, and a bridge over the countries largest river seems like a good place to start — especially when you consider that (for better, or for worse, we will soon lose the loved/hated Metrodome from the Minneapolis skyline. I don’t think we need the Golden Gate Bridge or anything, but something with some character that can be identified in a photo shouldn’t be too hard to ask. Hey, true visionaries can even find ways to make manhole covers things of beauty