For the first time in nearly three years, the historic Third Avenue Bridge is again a potential pathway for anyone traveling over the Mississippi River between the Downtown West and Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhoods.

The 105-year-old bridge reopened to traffic over the weekend following a restoration project whose goal is to extend its life another 50 years. Initially expected to cost $129 million and temporarily remove the bridge from service for less than two years, the project ended up being about $150 million and taking a year longer to complete.

Project manager Chris Hoberg, a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) engineer, said it’s the bridge’s third and “most robust rehabilitation” since its completion in 1918.

Prior to the project’s start in May 2020, when traffic was reduced to a single lane, the Third Avenue Bridge was exhibiting signs of ongoing deterioration throughout the structure, including on the bridge deck, columns, arches and pier bases.

As work continued, the entire bridge closed to traffic at the start of 2021, with MnDOT originally anticipating a November 2022 reopening. But crews determined more concrete surface repair was necessary, so the reopening was pushed back by a year.

Hoberg equates it to opening up the walls of a 100-year-old house for a remodel and finding more issues that need to be addressed.

“We literally touched every surface of this bridge,” he said.

All in all, crews removed and replaced more than 30,000 tons of concrete and installed 3.2 million pounds of reinforcing steel, according to MnDOT.

At the peak, there were more than 120 people on site, working six days a week over multiple shifts. 

“It was a very large and very orchestrated endeavor,” Hoberg said.

Most changes to the Third Avenue Bridge aren’t super noticeable – other than its shiny, new coat of concrete – but there is a new feature that’s sure to be a hit with bikers and pedestrians: an immovable barrier protecting the 13-foot multi-use path from the roadway.

Once known as the Saint Anthony Falls Bridge, it’s historically and architecturally significant due to its utilization of Melan arch design, an early form of reinforced concrete, and its evocation of the City Beautiful movement.

Frederick W. Cappelen,  a city planner who designed the Third Avenue Bridge, also introduced an S-curve in the structure for a more sound foundation in the riverbed.

The Third Avenue Bridge is located within the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, along with the adjacent Hennepin Avenue and Stone Arch bridges.

Next spring, the Stone Arch Bridge is slated to close for a two-year repair, during which the Third Avenue Bridge will serve as the detour route for walkers, runners and bikers.