By Chris Smith
There are many pedestrian bridges on the U’s Minneapolis campus, but perhaps none so charming as Bridge #93837, which spans the 176-foot-wide railroad trench separating the Knoll area from Sanford and Wilkins Halls in Dinkytown. Sadly, a June inspection of the nearly 70-year-old suspension bridge found deterioration that cannot be repaired at a reasonable cost, according to Jacqueline Bass, communications manager for the U’s Parking and Transportation Services. The only course, she says, is to close the bridge permanently.
Nicknamed “the Big M Bridge” because of the pair of tall, maroon-and-gold Ms securing suspension cables at its ends, the bridge is both picturesque and scary. Before it closed, pedestrians and bicyclists crossed 40 feet above train tracks, a dirt service road, and a bike path on a 10-footwide deck of rough wooden planks, which creaked, swayed, and bounced rather significantly. On a gray winter morning, pedestrians might wonder how they had managed to escape the troll who was supposed to ask them questions.
The Big M Bridge was moved to its current location in 1995. Built in 1949, at the peak of the postwar campus boom, it originally traversed the same railroad tracks farther east, connecting pedestrians to the parking lots and athletic fields north of campus. Changes to the athletic district meant the bridge had to be removed in the mid1990s, which coincided with the building of Wilkins Hall. The increased foot traffic in the area justified moving the bridge to its current location.
The bridge will remain standing, albeit fenced off, for several months, according to Bass, while her department determines whether a replacement is necessary and feasible. For now, students will have to walk a few blocks farther to cross the tracks and enter campus, and alumni will have to be content with wistfully recalling their bouncy, charming, and sometimes unnerving jaunts across Bridge #93837.
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