Monday, August 08, 2005

Swing Bridge

I am on the Supervisory Committee of a credit union, which means that I (and some others) in effect act as the internal auditor. The head office is in Inver Grove Heights and I spend half a day down there once a month. I've never ridden down there so thought I'd try it and see how long a commute that would be.

I set off Saturday morning about 7:40. It was a beautiful morning.
Cathedral of Saint Paul
There was no traffic coming, so I stopped in the middle of the road to get his photo of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Paul. It's a very impressive church. I briefly sang in their choir when we first moved here many years ago but at the time I was travelling quite a bit and couldn't make all the practices, so dropped out.
I went on down into downtown, took a left and took the Wabasha bridge.
Wabasha Bridge Bike Lane
This is my preferred way across the Mississippi in downtown Saint Paul. The bridge is pretty new and has this lovely bike lane. This is looking south from the north end of the bridge.
Ducks by the Marina from Wabasha bridge
This is one of the downtown marinas. A pride of ducks was paddling amidst the boats.
Across the river, I rode up to Concord and then took Robert Street to Arlington, then moved over to Oakdale and headed south. I liked this commercial building.
Midwest Plastics
I especially like the fake oil well in front of the building. It was a symbol of prosperity when it was installed. One wonders how it will be seen in future.

I got to the credit union. It took almost exactly 1 hour. Nothing was open this Saturday morning, so I went and took a leak in the bushes, rode through the parking lot, getting rattled by the rumble strip, and decided to go look at the J.A.R. bridge. I couldn't remember exactly where this was, but thought it was 77th street (wrong, it is 66th). I rode down the bike trail along Highway 52 to 80th street, then headed east. Figuring I might get hungry, I rode through the drive-through at MacDonalds to get myself an Egg McMuffin. Well, not only do left turn signals not respont to bikes, MacDonald's drive-throughs don't either. There was a sign saying if we were impaired or needed assistance ordering, pull to the first open window, so I did. I got my Egg McMuffin and a large OJ and went over to a park across the street out to a little island that isn't but should be called Goose Shit Island, where I ate my breakfast.

I rode on down to Concord, then turned north. At 66th I turned right to get to the bridge. The road has a dirt berm across the street and signs saying the road is closed. I walked the bike over this and rode gingerly down the road, a road with an amazing density of broken glass on it. One guy came the other way, walking his dog. The bridge was open until June 1999 and you had to pay a 75 cent toll to go across; I have read it was 30 cents for a bicycle. A routine state-mandated inspection that June by HDR Engineering Inc. and Parsons Brinckerhoff found enough structual problems to close the bridge.
JAR Bridge toll house
The toll house is extensively vandalized and the approach to the bridge overgrown.
JAR Bridge approach road
This is a swing bridge, but you have to ride out to the swinging part. The bridge carried both a roadway and train rails; the tracks were on the upper level, the road below. I gather that there had not been rail traffic since 1980 on the bridge. It looks very much like the set for a rock video, crumbling old infrastructure. Where the side boards are still intact they are heaving adorned with graffiti, much of it pretty juvenile, announcing that various people are gay or sluts. I hadn't been here in years, having driven across a couple of times after reading about it in Richard "Fred" Arey's 1995 Twin Cities Bicycling, in which it was Ride 32, Patti Rocks the River, named after a 1988 movie Patti Rocks, which had a scene featuring the bridge.
JAR Bridge from roadway
The swinging bridge structure is open to allow river traffic through and has a couple of cables holding it in position. There is a sign on it with its name, the J.A.R. Bridge, which stands for Joan and Allen Roman, of Burr Ridge, Illinois. These folks bought it in 1982. After the bridge was closed, there were hints of reopening, possible sales, etc. The owners tried to get the county to pay $193,000 for a full engineering inspection with the understanding that there were some potential buyers who would spend $1 million or more to fix it up and reopen it. The county turned this down in October 2000 and I don't think there's been much activity since then. The Polish Union USA Fraternal Journal offered condolences to Joan in its July/August 2004 issue on the death of her husband Alan, so there may be other things on the company's mind. Early on, there was hope to reopen the bridge, especially for the 2002-2008 duration of the Interstate 61/494 bridge rebuilding, but six years have come and gone, the I-494 bridge project is well underway, and whatever rude shock the closed bridge must have been for local communters one day in June 1999 has certainly long since dissipated into new commuting patterns.

JAR Bridge center
On the east bank is the Ashland-Marathon oil refinery, one of two in the area. You can see it a bit beyond the center pivoting structure of the bridge.
Barge at refinery from JAR Bridge
There was a tow moored just downstream. The roadway to the end of the bridge has you pretty much out in the middle of the river. It feels kind of lonely; it would be pretty sinister late at night. I rode back down and past the toll house, then walked over the worst of the broken glass and the berm. If the bridge doesn't get sold and repoened, the counties (Washington and Dakota) will probably get stuck with it, the Coast Guard will more than likely want it removed as a hazard to navigation, and it'll cost the counties $1.5 to $2 million to remove. They say they'll go after J.A.R. but I'm guessing they aren't that well-off. I also read that the Minnesota Department of Transportation noted that the Saint Paul Park road had been abandoned, with this official notice: "3rd Ave (3rd St to JAR bridge) summer/fall 04 — permanent closure Closed — Roadway vacated to Marathon-Ashland".

You do wonder about the decision process to buy this thing in the first place. The bridge was carrying about 2,000 cars a day at the time it closed, about $550,000 revenue a year at $0.75 each. It wasn't somewhere we ever went, though I crossed the bridge a couple of times just out of interest to see where it was. For bicycles, at least those down in Saint Paul Park and Inver Grove Heights, I would think it would have been a useful link since, after 20 or so crossings between Coon Rapids and Saint Paul, there's not another bikeable crossing between the Robert Street bridge in downtown Saint Paul and the bridge in Hastings. When the current Interstate 494 bridge construction is done there will be a bike/pedestrian sidewalk with some affiliated trail access on that bridge, which will help fill this gap, but I don't believe that will be available until next year. I've read about a disused railway bridge in Missouri that a town hoped to do into trails access but the owners want to scrap because the value of the steel is so high. One wonders how much the steel in this bridge is worth. In the meantime, the span sits idle and forlorn to let the river traffic by with the road a gathering place for vandals. I find it interesting to check out a relic like this.

Meanwhile, riding away from the bridge, at 66th Street there's a "Gentleman's Club" called the King of Diamonds. I've heard ads for this place on KFAN (the local Sports Talk radio station) before and if I recall they say it's only 10 minutes from the Metrodome. Man, how fast do these people drive?
King of Diamonds Gentlemen's Club
Is there anything sadder than a strip joint in daylight? The King of Diamonds had limosine parking and a specific area for motorcycles plus the required handicapped parking but no bicycle parking. Hey! Don't cyclists go to strip joints? Come to think about it, maybe I won't raise a fuss. As I left the train signals came down as a couple of locomotives noisily chugged by, allowing me time to savour some of the aromatic BFI garbage trucks based across the street from this Gentlemen's Club. Classy.

I rode on down Concord. Lots of bars down here. One of them had a big sign advertising "Get Trashed Tuesdays". I got into downtown South Saint Paul, stopped by the bank, and then went to get on a bike path marked on the map. Unfortunately, this path was in use for some sort of walk event, scores of people with numbers and cops blocking traffic. I rode up to one cop and commented that maybe this wasn't the time to ride the trail, as all the pedestrians were coming against me. He said it probably wouldn't be the best time. I went back to Concord and rode along, past the stockyards and meat processing places. Eventually I came across a road which joined up with the trail and rode over. There was a walk official there and he said everybody was past, so I headed on up the trail.

South Saint Paul Pedestrian and Bike Bridge
I don't know who gets credit for these things, but I admire then. This bridge is solely for the bike/pedestrian path in South Saint Paul and takes us across the railway tracks. Someone along the way got the funding, design work and construction done on this stuff, on the various river paths, the Summit bike lanes, the new I-35E bridge bike/pedestrian lanes, the Midtown Greenway, and the Hopkins trails, etc. I have no idea who these people are, but along the way somebody worked effectively to get these implemented over what probably seemed like hugely long timeframes. I tip my hat to those who've got these things underway and in place so we can enjoy them. (Actually, an article in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune credits Rep. Jim Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota, for getting the Twin Cities one of four $25 million grants to see how bike trail construction can affect traffic congestion, so there is one advocate for us).

Deer along railway
These deer were bounding along the railway tracks. The sign warns of remote control locomotives. Those deer better watch it!

Solar Panel on Railroad
Some people get solar power. In the upper middle of this photo you can see a solar panel for keeping the signals running.

Matt and Test Dummy jersey
While on the bridge, I took a photo of me in my new cycling jersey. It's my first modern plastic jersey. It's a big decision, what to get. The Discovery Channel or U.S. Postal Service ones mark you as a Lance Wannabe; no local club worth its salt would want me plodding along in their colors with my fenders and kickstand, stopping every 200 feet to take pictures, getting overtaken by old ladies pulling Trail-a-Bikes, etc.; I'm not fast enough to wear a yellow or polka-dooted jersey; some of the European jerseys look cool but you'd hate to buy one and discover the sponsor is Luxembourg's largest manufacurer of hemorrhoid cream or something; plain high-visibility yellow seems kind of earnest; then I ran into this Crash Test Dummy jersey, high visibility and kind of whimsical, so decided to get it. This was my first time out riding it. I took this with a self-timer, hence it's slightly crooked orientation on the South St. Paul trail bridge.

State Capitol and Flowers
I stopped by the Farmers Market to visit Costa's and get some of their marvelous salsa. Tragically, they don't make it anymore! Damn! It was really good, actually spicy unlike so much Minnesota food, and locally-produced. It was the only thing I stopped for. Disappointed, I unlocked the bike and rode home, past the Capitol building with its flower beds.

Ducks at Como Lake
I stopped to fiddle with my left pedal just before I got home. These ducks were swimming on Como Lake. I forgot to note the distance; I think I did 32 miles in the end.

Henry and Trek 620
Sunday Henry and I rode to church. Here he is with his Trek 620, which will shortly undergo some upgrades.

Rowing Shell on Mississippi
The rowing club was splashing about down on the river under the Lake/Marshall bridge. We made decent time to church. Henry's a strong rider, he doesn't really hold me back at all, not that I'm blazing fast. We did 29.2 miles round trip and came home using the Midtown Greenway/LRT trail/Number 9 bridge/Intercampus Transitway. You can go a long way with only minimal traffic interaction. There was a trail user survey being conducted on the Greenway and we stopped to fill that out. I saw a young lady on a Breezer bike; I hadn't seen one in the wild before. It was relentlessly sunny and not attractive out so I didn't take any photos on the way home. I did stop on the U of M campus to help a lady figure out where the Aquatic Center is; it was a pleasant and helpful interaction with a motorist, one tiny step in working on our image.


The Donut Guy said...

Awesome jersey!

Pretty darn good pics too :-)

Anonymous said...

I, too like the jersey. I would have called it a shirt because I am not up on cycling terms. We have done the South Saint Paul bike trails too. They are fun.


Anonymous said...

Many years ago, I stayed a friend's aunt's place in St Paul Park. One night, we walked out onto the swinging bridge and waited for a barge. Soon enough, the bridge swung open and we were in the middle of the river with no way of getting back until the bridge swung closed. When I moved to the Twin Cities, it took me several years to remember where that bridge was. Unfortunately, by then, it had been shut down. I wish it was open because I would use it to bypass the 494 construction mess. As it now stands, I rarely crossover from South St Paul to the other side of the river.

Regarding the pedestrian/bike bridge over Concord and the RR tracks, I remember reading that South St Paul is working on creating a new park next to the river. It will be on the site of a former landfill. They still need to add several feet of soil to the site before they can open it as a park. The bridge is for connecting that future park with the current park system.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I saw the swing bridge on an old bike route map and was trying to figure out if it was still there. Now I don't have to ride all the way there and find out I can't cross the river.

Lester @ Adult Tricycle said...

Sounds like a fun trip. Enjoyed your descriptions and pictures.

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