Parkway concept survives as option for Duluth

MnDOT will study traffic impacts of an at-grade crossing between downtown and Canal Park, while also analyzing new bridge concepts for Fifth Avenue West over I-35.

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.
Dan Williamson / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The state will study traffic impacts of a potential at-grade crossing to replace the Fifth Avenue West bridge connecting downtown and Canal Park.

The at-grade crossing first advocated by a grassroots group in Duluth was among a series of possibilities outlined Tuesday evening during a public meeting about the bridge, which is nearing the end of its useful life and scheduled for work in 2031.

The at-grade parkway concept first offered up by the Duluth Waterfront Collective two years ago is praised by supporters for the way it could create a greener and more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly connection between downtown and Canal Park.

“It’s definitely a bigger ask, and it’d be part of a large-scale project that would change the category of road the interstate currently is,” Doug Kerfeld, a Duluth-based Minnesota Department of Transportation project manager, said of a parkway concept.

“This area is going to continue to be discussed,” he added. “We’re at the front end of it.”


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 Jan. 21.
Dan Williamson / File / Duluth News Tribune

The state will also do traffic analysis on four additional concepts for a rebuilt bridge, including one concept that would remove vehicle traffic and make the bridge exclusive to pedestrians and cyclists.

The state transportation department used public comment from a survey earlier this year to reach the current concepts and direction. More than 3,600 people visited the project website during the open survey, with roughly 10% leaving comments. Comments fell into two camps, Kerfeld said: one advocating not to change anything that would affect vehicle flow, and another group calling for an at-grade parkway concept.

“If MnDOT rebuilds the bridge as it is today, that would likely lock in another 50-plus years of I-35 dividing downtown Duluth and the waterfront,” said Jordan van der Hagen, organizer of the Duluth Waterfront Collective.

He went on to praise the upcoming traffic study of a parkway.

“We commend MnDOT and their consultants for exploring ways to improve this important connection to function better for all modes of traffic,” van der Hagen told the News Tribune. “And, (we) hope to see them implement the best possible solution for the community.”

The door for public impact remains open.

Kerfeld said a two-year study beginning soon of the Interstate 35 corridor — this one conducted by the Metropolitan Interstate Council in Duluth — will also be used to gain public opinion to help shape the future of the roadway. That study will look at the entirety of the I-35 corridor from Proctor to the end of the freeway at 26th Avenue East in Duluth.

Another idea — covering the four lanes of I-35 through downtown with green space — also emerged this spring, after the survey had closed. Even that remains a possibility.


Fifth Ave bridge concepts.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

“It’s definitely in the conversation for large-scale change,” Kerfeld said.

Among the more modest concepts are four that would keep a bridge in place. The four bridge concepts include:

  • Constructing a separate bike and pedestrian bridge along the north side of a new vehicle bride. 
  • Adding bicycle lanes on both sides of a new bridge to go with sidewalks. 
  • A single bicycle track on the north side of a new bridge. 
  • Making it a bicycle and pedestrian-only bridge, and rerouting vehicle traffic to the Lake Avenue bridge. 

All of those concepts will now be treated to traffic analysis to determine what impact each would have on traffic flow in the area. A parkway concept would have to feature some type of controlled intersection, either signaled or a roundabout.
“We’re not ignoring those comments,” Kerfeld said of grassroots proposals. “There’s a lot of thought and ideas of how to make it better and we’re open to listening and figuring out what’s best for the transportation system as a whole — not just motorized users.”

The landscape architect who designed parks above the interstate wants to better connect downtown with Canal Park.

Brady Slater is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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