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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Historic Northern Pacific Railroad Mississippi River Crossing
Minneapolis, MN

Northern Pacific Bridge #9

• Structure ID: 94246.
• Location: River Mile 853.0.
• River Elevation: 725 Feet.
• Highway: Dinkytown Trail (Bicycle And Pedestrian Path).
• Bridge Type: Steel Deck Truss.
• Length: 952 Feet, 245 Foot Longest Span.
• Width: 1 Traffic Lane.
• Navigation Channel Width: 160 Feet.
• Height Above Water: 88 Feet.
• Date Built: Opened 1922, Rebuilt 1955 And 1999.
Northern Pacific Bridge #9 is an abandoned railroad bridge that has found new life as a bicycle path. While the rails to trails concept has been around for a number of years, converting a large river bridge for trail usage was a novel idea in the late 1990s. With large numbers of university students walking and riding bicycles, this project has been a major success. The only drawback is that there is no tourist parking available anywhere within reasonable walking distance of the bridge.

The first Northern Pacific Railroad bridge near this location was built in 1885. That bridge and the rail line to the east formed the southern boundary of the University of Minnesota campus. The bridge was rebuilt in 1917 to handle the larger locomotives and heavier trains.

At that time, the Northern Pacific Railroad operated a large number of trains through the University of Minnesota campus with the trains operating at street level. This was not only very dangerous, but the trains caused dirt, noise, and blocked streets and walking paths for long periods of time. In 1922, the railroad and the university developed a plan to solve this problem by running Northern Pacific trains through a trench that would be built through the campus area. At that time, the old bridge was removed and the new Bridge #9 was constructed to connect the trench to the west bank river bluffs. Bridge #10 then carried the line over 20th Avenue South.

Bridge #9 was rebuilt again in 1955 as trains became heavier and longer following the conversion to diesel-electric locomotives. The next major event was the merger of the Northern Pacific with the Great Northern and the Chicago, Burlington, Quincy in 1970. As a result of the merger, the Burlington Northern owned more Mississippi River bridges than were needed. The BN continued to operate trains over this Mississippi River crossing until 1981. Bridge #10 was removed shortly after the line was abandoned, but the river bridge remained intact. Bridge #9 was opened again in 2000 after being retrofit as a pedestrian bridge and bicycle trail.

The bridge is just short of 1,000 feet long. The river spans consist of three shorter piers supporting two long trusses. The track was installed on top of the trusses rather than through the trusses as might be expected. Taller piers on each side of the river support several deck plate girder spans. This configuration gives the bridge its unusual profile shape with tall thick spans in the middle and thin spans on the ends.

Bridge #9 was closed between August 1, 2007 and August 21, 2007 while the recovery operation was ongoing at the site of the I-35W bridge collapse disaster. Construction work on the east bank of the river has resulted in the east end of this bridge remaining closed after the rest of the bridge was reopened. The bridge was fully reopened in early 2008. When Bridge #9 was reopened, it was the best location to view the I-35W disaster recovery work until the 10th Avenue Bridge was reopened. The bridge was also the best vantage point to watch the NTSB work to reconstruct the bridge after the disaster.

As part of the construction of the new I-35W bridge, a culvert was included to allow a future bicycle trail to be routed from downtown Minneapolis to Bridge #9. This would be a significant link in the regional trail system. Future plans include building the last section of the East River Parkway and a new road called Granary Parkway to connect existing trails with Bridge #9 and the trail system that heads into Ramsey County and Saint Paul.

The photo above is an early spring view from the bluffs on the southwest side of the structure looking east across the Mississippi River towards the University of Minnesota campus.


Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is a view of Northern Pacific Bridge #9 looking through the trees on the east river bank on the University of Minnesota campus. The photo below is looking southeast towards the truss spans from the West River Parkway, a scenic drive built along the west side of the Mississippi River through much of Minneapolis.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
These two photos are looking southeast though the arches of the 10th Avenue Bridge on the west river bank. The photo above is a wider view of the river spans as seen from the observation deck for the new I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge. Teh photo below is taken from directly under the 10th Avenue Bridge.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
These two photos are wide views showing the entire bridge including the deck plate girder approach spans. Both photos are taken from the deck of the 10th Avenue Bridge located just upstream of the University of Minnesota. The photo above is from the south side of the river with West River Parkway on the right side of the scene. The photo below is from the north side of the river. The large building complex in the background is the University Hospital.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
These two photos are additional views from the deck of the 10th Avenue Bridge, but are closer views focused on the two large deck truss spans. The building on the far left edge of the photo above is the old Mine Technology lab, which has been rebuilt into the Education Building. This building is where the taconite process was developed, which has become a major industry on the Iron Range. The old steamship docs are located on the far left side of the photo below, which was once the northern terminus of river traffic prior to the two locks being built at Saint Anthony Falls.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is a close view of the mid-river pier, while the photo below is the truss span over the river navigation channel. Both views are from the deck of the 10th Avenue Bridge. The Washington Avenue Bridge is visible in the background of the photo below.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
These two photos are views of the deck plate girder spans on the southwest end of the Northern Pacific Bridge #9. The photo above is looking east from the south end of the 10th Avenue Bridge deck. The core area of the University of Minnesota campus is located on the far side of the river. The photo below is looking southeast from high above the Mississippi River on the deck of the 10th Avenue Bridge. The Washington Avenue Bridge is in the background with its distinctive enclosed walkway on its upper level.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is the west abutment for Northern Pacific Bridge #10, which once carried the railroad tracks over 20th Avenue. The photo below is the path running along the former railroad right of way towards the south end of Bridge #9.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is the southern end of Northern Pacific Bridge #9. The photo below is the view looking northeast down the length of the bridge deck. The beautifully refurbished Education Building is located on the far side of the Mississippi River.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is looking north along the upstream face of the Northern Pacific Bridge #9. The photo below is another view looking north down the length of the bridge deck. The building on the riverfront in the photo above is the central heating plant, while the building with the large white roof is a coal storage facility.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
These two photos are views of the north end of Northern Pacific Bridge #9. The photo above is the north entrance as seen from the coffee shop at the Education Science Building, while the photo below is looking south down the length of the bridge deck. The tall buildings in the distance are part of Riverside Plaza. These buildings were developed as the modern city of the future in the early 1970s, but they quickly became a concrete ghetto. They were called the ‘Crack Stack’ in the 90s and early 2000s, but the area has improved greatly by 2010 with additional police driving the gangs away, an influx of people from northern Africa who take better care of the neighborhood, and an influx of federal stimulus loans to renovate the complex.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is a road sign marking the trail. The photo below is another view looking through the trees from the east side of the river towards the downstream face of the bridge. This photo is very similar to a photo near the top of this page, except that it is a few years older.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is a view of the bridge from Bohemian Flats along the west bank of the Mississippi River. Note that the North Coast Limited logo is still visible on the deck plate girder section. The photo below is a view of the bridge from the West River Parkway. The University of Minnesota East Bank Campus is located on the far side of the river.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
These two photos are views of the Northern Pacific Bridge #9 as seen from the East River Flats area from a vantage point under the 10th Avenue Bridge. The photo above is a wide-angle view, while the photo below is a close-up view of the mid-river pier. From these views, it is apparent that the bridge was built as two Warren Truss spans with the rail deck built on top. There are deck plate girder spans on either side of the two trusses.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is the bridge deck at the south end of the structure. The building on the far side of the river is the Education Sciences Building on the University of Minnesota campus. The photo below is the bridge deck at the north end of the structure. The tall buildings in the distance are the Riverside Towers, a housing project in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is the transition between the bridge approach and the actual bridge structure on the north end of the river crossing. The photo below is a view from mid-structure. The bridge makes a curve at the south end of the crossing, and actually exits towards the west. The decorative railings and concrete deck were added in the 1999 remodel.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is a look along the west face of the historic bridge. The river gorge is about 90 feet deep at this location. The bridge crosses the river flats and the West River Parkway on the south side of the river. The photo below is the abutment from Northern Pacific Bridge #10, which once crossed the Mississippi River next to Bridge #9. Bridge #10 was abandoned in 1981, and was removed shortly afterwards.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9
Northern Pacific Bridge #9
The photo above is the historical marker on the west bank of the river near the west end of Bridge #9. There is a similar marker on the east end of the structure. The photo below is the bridge plate. This bridge plate was attached to the bridge when it was converted for pedestrian and bicycle use.

Northern Pacific Bridge #9

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