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MnDOT seeks input on sensitive bridge project to Bayfront

As state officials raise the issue of redoing the Fifth Avenue West bridge, the Duluth Waterfront Collective has something to say about it.

cars driving on bridge
The Fifth Avenue West bridge in Duluth as seen from above West Superior Street on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is asking for public input on a Fifth Avenue West bridge project study.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — As one vocal group reconsiders what it means to pass through downtown, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will study a key bridge at the heart of competing visions for the city.

MnDOT announced Friday it was hosting an ongoing virtual open house through Feb. 11 to receive feedback on a proposed Fifth Avenue West bridge project.

The bridge over Interstate 35 is one of two major access points from downtown to Canal Park, along with the recently reconstructed Lake Avenue Bridge. Both are in place as overpasses of Interstate 35.

bridge with no traffic
The Fifth Avenue West bridge in Duluth as seen from West Michigan Street on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"The goal of this study is to jump start the MnDOT scoping process for a future bridge project on the Fifth Avenue West Bridge over I-35," the project website said in relation to a Friday news release.

In response, the group behind an effort to restore at-grade connectivity between downtown and Canal Park is urging its members in an email to weigh in, it told the News Tribune.


An artist's conception of a future Duluth downtown.
The Duluth Waterfront Collective's reimagined Interstate 35 corridor through downtown Duluth aims to promote a more livable, equitable, and sustainable city, the group says.
Contributed / Duluth Waterfront Collective

“It shouldn't be an overpass at all — it should be an at-grade roundabout intersection with the adjacent freeway being converted into a parkway with a grade-separated pedestrian path,” the Downtown Waterfront Collective said in its email to its members.

The group’s push to reimagine I-35’s role in Duluth has been featured prominently in the news media locally, including by Minnesota Public Radio this month.

On Wednesday, a meeting of the Metropolitan Interstate Council, which helps organize transportation projects and solutions in Duluth, featured multiple community voices in support of the local group's new approach to downtown mobility.

The Duluth Waterfront Collective believes it can better connect downtown and Canal Park for less money than rebuilding the interstate.

MnDOT said it will use the open house to identify several possible alternatives and “to gather initial viewpoints on the functionality and shortcomings of the current structure.”

There's benefit in doing the study now, MnDOT said, as it may allow the state to move a future bridge project up in its construction program if additional funding becomes available.

Currently, MnDOT has a Fifth Avenue West bridge "repair" scheduled for 2031, costing between $4.8 million and $6.5 million, according to its 10-year Capital Highway Investment Plan.

In the end, "stakeholder and public input" will be considered into its recommendation, MnDOT said, along with "preliminary engineering and traffic modeling and analysis."

The $200,000 study figures to wrap up by June.


According to the Duluth Waterfront Collective, removing the bridge and bringing passages to grade, "would help 'unbury' the historic Depot, make it possible to bike and walk between the Depot, the DECC and Bayfront Park without crossing any traffic lanes, and allow for easy and direct traffic in and out during events."

The virtual open house and community survey are available to view anytime at .

bridge and street signs
The Fifth Avenue West bridge in Duluth as seen from the corner of West Michigan Street and South Fifth Avenue West on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Brady Slater covers St. Louis County and transportation for the Duluth News Tribune. He's a veteran journalist, and a University of Pittsburgh graduate who was born and raised in the Northland. He can be reached by emailing or by calling or texting 218-721-2724.
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