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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Fort Road Bridge
MN-5 Mississippi River Crossing
Minneapolis, MN to Saint Paul, MN

MN-5 Bridge

• Structure ID: NBI: 9300.
• Location: River Mile 845.60.
• River Elevation: 686 Feet.
• Highway: MN-5, Fort Road, West 7th Street.
• Daily Traffic Count: 59,000 (2002).
• Bridge Type: Steel Plate Girder.
• Length: 1,198 Feet Overall, 300 Foot Longest Span.
• Width: 4 Traffic Lanes, 73 Feet.
• Navigation Channel Width: 258 Feet.
• Height Above Water: 88 Feet.
• Date Built: Opened November 1961, Rebuilt In 1986.
According to the Minnesota State Historical Society, there have been two previous bridges at this location. The first was built was a wagon bridge in 1880. This bridge featured very tall cut stone piers, and then a long continuous deck truss span that crossed the river. The north end was built with a number of 4 leg towers. These towers had cables, rods, and beams placed across the gaps to hold up the roadway. This bridge was in use until 1912. It was known as the Fort Snelling High Bridge.

A steel arch bridge was built in 1912 to replace the wagon bridge. This bridge had three main piers, one just below Fort Snelling, one in the river, and one on the river flats on the north side of the river. A pair of large arches spanned these three piers, with the road deck built above the arch trusswork. A short deck truss span was located on each end of the bridge to connect the end of the arch spans to the bridge abutments. This bridge was known as the Second Fort Snelling Bridge.

The current bridge opened in November, 1961. This bridge, known as the Fort Road Bridge, is a modern style steel plate girder bridge. A series of concrete piers were built, and steel girders were erected on top of the piers. Cross beams were installed, and a concrete deck was put on top of the metal structure. The interesting design feature is that while most of the piers are set at right angles to the roadway, the two piers that are in the river are set at a right angle to the river current, which is not a right angle to the to the roadway. So, while most of the piers are square to the bridge, two are set at an angle to the bridge.

The Fort Road bridge is a fracture critical bridge. That is, it has a design where if one key part fails, the bridge does not have enough redundant parts to prevent the entire structure from collapsing. The fracture critical issue was dramatically demonstrated when the I-35W bridge collapsed in 2007. The issue with the Fort Road bridge is that there are only two main girders per span (with two spans side by side). If one of these girders were to fail, that span would collapse. A bridge with redundancy would have at least 3, and preferably at least 4 main girders. The additional girders would leave a margin of error.

Beyond the technical issues, this is a bridge that I know very little about. The Fort Road bridge has not been in the media as far as I recall. Yet, with a traffic count of 59,000 cars a day, this bridge carries a huge load and is a key piece of highway infrastructure.

The photo at the top of the page was taken from Hidden Falls Regional Park. This area of the park can be accessed by Lower Hidden Falls Drive. The photo below was taken from the small park on the northeast end of the bridge. That park is built on the abutment remaining from the 1912 bridge. The buildings in the background are part of Fort Snelling.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
These two photos attempt to show profile views of the bridge. The bridge deck is located right at the tree-top level, and the area has heavy vegetation, so only bits and pieces of the bridge are visible from any given vantage point. The photo above was taken from Crosby Farm Road on the north end of the bridge just downstream of the river crossing. The photo below was taken from the parking lot at the visitor center for historic Fort Snelling, which is on the south side of the river just upstream of the bridge.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
These two photos are views of the upstream face of the Fort Road Bridge as seen from the north bank of the Mississippi River. The photo above is an overview of the main river channel crossing, while the photo below is a close view of the main channel span. These two bridge piers are set parallel to the river flow rather than being square with the bridge deck.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
The photo above is looking southeast towards the south bridge abutment. The bridge abutment is carved into the bluff. A Milwaukee Road railroad line once sat on the ledge under the bridge, but that railroad line was abandoned before this bridge was constructed. The railroad right-of-way is now a regional trail. The photo below is a view of the structure under the bridge deck. While the bridge appears to be freshly painted, there is already rust showing on the steel below the joint in the bridge deck above this pier.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
The photo above is a close view of one of the bridge piers on the flood plain on the north side of the Mississippi River. The photo below shows the rest of the bridge on the north side of the river. This section of the bridge is hidden from view in the summer by the trees.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
These two photos are the first of five photos showing a typical Mississippi River crossing using the Fort Road bridge. This journey will start on the south side of the river, and head north into Saint Paul. Just prior to the bridge, we pass through a tunnel that is built under Fort Snelling. In the photo above, we enter the tunnel from the tricky short ramp exiting from westbound MN-55 and MN-62 after just having crossed the Mendota Bridge. In the photo below, we are northbound on MN-5 having just passed the MSP International Airport.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
The photo above is a view from inside the tunnel under Fort Snelling. The Fort Road bridge begins at the end of the tunnel. The photo below is a view after exiting the tunnel and entering the bridge. Notice how tight the traffic lanes are to the guardrails.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
The photo above completes our Mississippi River crossing. Just as we exit the bridge, we pass under two overpasses. Notice the elegant cut stone monument announcing our entrance into Saint Paul. The photo below is a view headed southbound on the Fort Road bridge. Looking up the highway, we see the tunnel under Fort Snelling. The historic fort is on the left side, while the more modern complex on the right side dates from the 1880s and 1890s.

MN-5 Bridge
MN-5 Bridge
These two photos are views from under the Fort Road bridge. The photo above gives a detail view of how the steel is placed to cross-brace the two girders, and how the deck is supported by large steel cross-beams. The photo below is looking south through all the piers.

MN-5 Bridge

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