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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Big M Bridge
University Of Minnesota Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge
Minneapolis, MN

Big M Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI 93837
• Bridge Carries: Pedestrian/Bicycle Path
• Bridge Crosses: BNSF Railroad Tracks
• Bridge Type: Steel With Wood Deck, Cable Suspension
• Length: 176 Feet, 176 Foot Longest Span
• Width: ??? Feet
• Navigation Channel Width: Non-Navigable
• Height To Low Structure: 20 Feet
• Date Built: Built 1949, Moved 1995, Restored 2008
The Big M is a suspension bridge on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It spans a trench that carries several railroad tracks. The bridge connects two residence halls to the rest of the Minneapolis campus, but is also used as a regional bicycle trail and for students commuting to the University.

The bridge was built in 1949 about 4 blocks to the north east. It crossed these same railroad tracks, but connected the Bierman Field athletic complex to the rest of the campus. At that time, the bridge featured flights of steps on each end due to the bridge being built higher over the railroad tracks. New construction at Bierman Field and the relocation of 5th Street SE required that the bridge be removed in 1995. Rather than scrapping the bridge, it was moved to to its current location near the intersection of 13th Avenue SE and University Avenue.

The bridge moving project required the construction of new abutments, modification of the towers, and the installation of new suspension cable anchors. The bridge deck was also strengthened and new safer railings were installed. In its new location, the bridge is at ground level, so there are no steps. This makes it possible for bicycles to use the bridge.

A key feature of the bridge is the large letter ‘M’ embedded in the tower structure. The bridge towers are painted in the University of Minnesota school colors of Maroon and Gold. The bridge deck is built from wooden planks, resulting in a slightly rough and noisy ride when crossing on a bicycle. The cables have some give, which results in the bridge being very bouncy. Simply walking across the span is enough to make the deck rise and fall an inch or more.

The Big M was given a routine inspection in early 2008. Inspectors were alarmed at the level of deterioration that they found, and closed the bridge on February 28, 2008. The bridge was closed several months while it was sandblasted, repaired, and additional strengthening plates were welded onto the structure. It reopened later in the summer of 2008.

The photo above is a view of the west face of the Big M bridge. The building in the background is a private student housing complex. The photo below is a photograph on a historical display located near the bridge. It shows the Big M bridge in its former location prior to its 1995 relocation.


Big M Bridge
Big M Bridge
The photo above is looking east towards the Big M Bridge along the BNSF railroad tracks that run through Dinkytown. The tracks once led to the Stone Arch Bridge, but they now stop at the new Interstate highway I-35W bridge. This right-of-way will be used in the future to construct Granary Road to fill in a missing segment of the Minneapolis parkway system. The photo below is a view of the south end of the bridge looking to the north across the trench containing the BNSF tracks.

Big M Bridge
Big M Bridge
These two photos are views from the southeast corner of the structure. The building on the far side of the railroad right-of-way is Roy Wilkins Hall, a dormitory for University of Minnesota students.

Big M Bridge
Big M Bridge
The photo above is looking down the length of the pedestrian deck from the south end of the structure. The photo below is a similar view from mid-span.

Big M Bridge
Big M Bridge
These two photos are side views of the bridge span. The photo above is the east side of the bridge, while the photo below is the west side of the bridge. The triangular braces on the side of the structure were added in 1995 in a project to strengthen the side railings and make the railings conform to modern safety standards.

Big M Bridge
Big M Bridge
The photo above is the bridge plate. The designer, Joseph Wise, was a professor who taught aeronautical and civil engineering at the University. The photo below is a detail view of the suspension cable and the connection to one of the vertical suspension rods. There are two parallel cables on each side of the bridge.

Big M Bridge
Big M Bridge
These two photos are detail views of the anchor block at the southeast corner of the structure. There are two steel bars embedded in the concrete. Eye bolts are attached to these bars with pins. The eyebolts have a connector that attaches to the suspension cables. Nuts on the eyebolts can be adjusted to tighten the cable over time.

Big M Bridge
Big M Bridge
These two photos are views of the south end of the Big M Bridge on a sunny morning in early summer of 2011. The photo above is looking to the northwest while the photo below is looking down the length of the bridge deck.

Big M Bridge

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