The I-35E project became highly controversial. Neighborhood groups organized under the banner of "RIP I-35E" to attempt to block the project. The first result is that the bridge went largely unused for many years since I-35E did not connect to a freeway on the south end until the mid-1980s, and on the north end to the early-1990s. The second result of the lawsuits were that when I-35E was finally built, it was built as a 45 MPH parkway rather than a standard Interstate Highway. The compromise also prevent some feeder roads from being connected to the highway, such as Ayd Mill Road.
The original Lexington Bridge deteriorated unexpectedly fast, and a new bridge was needed by the late 1990's. Local opposition groups proposed a single 2-lane span to reduce traffic coming into Saint Paul. Their position was that a 2-lane bridge would make traffic backups intolerable, so commuters would find a different route to downtown Saint Paul, leaving the local neighborhoods a zone of bliss. MN-DOT wanted a modern 6-lane bridge. Community groups suggested a 4-lane compromise. The courts finally threw the NIMBY lawsuits out, and a full 6-lane bridge was built, 2 through lanes in each direction plus one local lane in each direction.
The construction of the new bridge was an impressive project. The new bridge was constructed in the same place as the old bridge, while keeping 4 lanes of traffic open at all times. A new span was built just south of the old bridge. When it was ready, northbound traffic was routed over that span. The old south span was then tore down, and a new span put in its place. All 4 lanes were now on the new bridge, which allowed the old north span to be tore down and replaced. Once all 6 lanes of the new span was built, traffic was moved to the outside lanes to allow the center divider to be built.
Shortly after the new Lexington Bridge opened in 2004, MN-DOT installed a bridge anti-ice system. This consists of a reservoir of de-icing chemicals, sprinkler heads embedded in the roadway, and pumps and piping to connect the system. When temperatures are right for ice to form, the system pumps de-icing chemicals onto the bridge, preventing the ice from forming. The system has been very successful, and has been credited with preventing many accidents each winter.
While the new bridge is very utilitarian looking, it does have some decorative elements in places where they did not excessively increase building costs. One example is the modern street lights with the right angle joint and square lamp fixtures. The piers feature a graceful Y-shape, which saved money by having smaller footprints at the base, and then spreading out the load on the top. A final feature of note is the regional trail crossing on the bridge. The trail has intricate metal rails, and features several overlooks complete with park benches.
Update—on July 7, 2009, MN-DOT reported that part of the barrier that protects the southern pier of the Lexington Bridge collapsed and fell into the river, blocking about 20 feet of the navigation channel. It appears that the bridge pier was struck by a barge. The bridge itself was not damaged. Navigation lights were placed around the debris. It will be removed from the river later in 2009.