Editor's note: This story originally published on February 23, 2024 and was updated on March 20, 2024 to convey the latest information from the Minnesota Department of Transportation regarding the Stone Arch Bridge closure.

The Stone Arch Bridge is an iconic symbol of Minneapolis. It graces tourism guides, B-roll footage on TV, engagement photos, and the winning design of Minneapolis Voices’ unofficial city flag contest. With no motorized traffic, direct passage from downtown to St. Anthony Main and stunning skyline views, it’s also a well-traveled route for pedestrians, cyclists and scooters crossing over the Mississippi River.

But for the next two years, alternating halves of the Stone Arch Bridge will be off limits to recreation, rendering it uncrossable. An initial closure is scheduled to begin on April 15, as crews officially start shoring up the aging bridge.

Since the project was announced several months ago, its estimated cost has risen from $26.2 million to $38.5 million, and its projected end date has been extended from fall 2025 to spring 2026, according to the Stone Arch Bridge project page.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation's closure plans have folks on both sides of the river asking: Why, exactly? Road bridges stay open during construction all the time. Why can’t that be the case for the former railroad bridge turned pedestrian walkway, especially when the work won’t disturb the bridge deck?

In short, because the bridge is too narrow to safely stage the equipment and materials needed for the work, with room to spare for pedestrians and cyclists, according to MnDOT spokesperson Jesse Johnson.

At the beginning of 2024, crews started measuring stones and doing other prep work on the bridge, ahead of the mid-April closure. MnDOT held a virtual public meeting on March 19 to share more details about the project.

Before that happened, we gathered information on MnDOT’s plans and answered some common questions from folks who regularly use the Stone Arch Bridge, so here’s what you should know.

Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

What's being done to the Stone Arch Bridge?

Crews will “repoint mortar on the entire bridge,” replace or repair stones “as needed,” and make “additional repairs as required, according to MnDOT’s project page.

Under the direction of the project’s lead contractor, Kraemer North America, crews will work on scaffolds along the length of the bridge and use the bridge deck as a staging area for materials and equipment, Johnson said.

The work will be slow and largely done by hand, according to Ward 3 Councilmember Michael Rainville, who’s in contact with MnDOT about the project. 

“They have to chip away an inch of deteriorated mortar between each stone, then repack it” through a process known as tuckpointing, Rainville said. “It’s very labor-intensive.” 

Crews will also clear some vegetation on the northeastern side of the bridge nearest St. Anthony Main.

Why is this work needed now?

The Stone Arch Bridge is 140 years old, and it hasn’t had any major work done since the mid-’90s.

“Everyone needs a little tuckpointing when you get to be 140,” Rainville said.

Mortar cracks as it ages. Over time, water seeps into the cracks and wears away at the remaining mortar and the structural stones themselves. The freeze-thaw cycle accelerates the process, further weakening the structure. With no intervention, the bridge could deteriorate to the point that it’s no longer safe to use at all.

That would be unacceptable to the bridge’s neighbors.

“As disappointed as we are to lose access to the full length of the Stone Arch Bridge, we would be more devastated by no bridge in the future,” said Chris Lautenschlager, executive director of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.

Though there’s no indication that the Stone Arch Bridge is structurally unsound right now, MnDOT says the project will “improve the structural condition of the bridge” and “preserve the bridge for the future.” 

During a Jan. 30 neighborhood association meeting, a MnDOT spokesperson gave a presentation and said “these repairs have to happen” to prevent “damage and deficiencies” in the near future, according to Lautenschlager, who was present.

The good news is that the impending project will likely be the biggest disruption to Stone Arch Bridge traffic for many years. MnDOT expects the repairs to last for “20 years, if not longer,” Johnson said.

The bridge deck and internal drainage system will also need significant work in the long term, but Johnson said “those repairs aren’t expected for another 20 years or so.” Once the entire crossing reopens, it should remain open for a long time to come, barring any unforeseen issues.

A summer view from the western side of the Stone Arch Bridge. Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

When is the bridge closing? Where?

The bridge's northeastern St. Anthony Main side will close to non-construction traffic on April 15 and remain closed until sometime in 2025, when crews switch over to the Mill District side of the bridge. MnDOT initially said March 2025, but now it's not sharing a more specific date.

Crews won't work through the winter, but they will continue to stage materials and equipment on the bridge deck until they're completely finished with the work, according to MnDOT, which originally said the bridge would temporarily reopen during the winter.

Rainville said the winter pause is necessary because mortar is difficult to work with in cold weather.

During the first closure, the southwestern entrance nearest the Mill District will remain open as work is done on the northeastern side, but members of the public won’t be able to cross past the bridge’s midway point.

“In essence, it’ll become the Stone Arch peninsula,” Rainville said.

Rather than the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which is tasked with maintaining the bridge's deck, MnDOT is responsible for communicating specifics about the closures and putting up detour signs to direct non-motorized traffic elsewhere.

How can bridge users get around the closure?

The newly-renovated Third Avenue Bridge is the closest alternative river crossing to the Stone Arch Bridge.

Jordan van der Hagen is a landscape architect who lives in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood. Most days, he walks or bikes across the Stone Arch Bridge to reach his office in the Flour Exchange Building. He estimates that the Third Avenue Bridge detour  adds about a quarter-mile to his daily commute. van der Hagen said he's less annoyed by the added distance than having to deal with cars along University Avenue and the “noisy” Third Avenue Bridge.

Lautenschlager said the 10th Avenue Bridge and the Dinkytown Greenway Bridge, or Bridge 9, are options for folks coming from or heading to points south and east of the Stone Arch Bridge.

Plenty of pedestrians and cyclists already use a BNSF Railway-owned service road to avoid surface streets between the Stone Arch Bridge’s Sixth Ave SE entrance and the Dinkytown Greenway on the U of M’s East Bank campus, but it’s technically not open for public use.

A winter view from the eastern side of the Stone Arch Bridge. Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

How do people feel about the closure?

When asked for thoughts on the Stone Arch Bridge closure, responses from Minneapolis Twitter ranged from indifferent to “somewhat enraged,” with most feeling that the closure is disappointing but understandable. Many said they’d be more upset if not for nearby alternatives.

“We are very fortunate that recent major bridge projects [Third Avenue and 10th Avenue] included excellent protected paths for bikes, scooters, and pedestrians,” said Jordan Leick, vice president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association and a regular bridge user. “If these nearby alternatives weren’t available, this extended closure would be much more painful.”  

Still, the closure is a major inconvenience for some folks. 

“[A]s a wheelchair user, if I want to get to the same Anthony Main area without using the Stone Arch, I have to take significant detours to avoid stairs by the 3rd Avenue Bridge,” one Twitter user said. “They should either completely close the bridge for one year. Or they should cut it in a way that it can still be used by pedestrians…[t]he solution they are choosing is the worst of both worlds and will only benefit tourists not locals.”

Van der Hagen pointed out that closing one side of the bridge at a time favors sightseers — and many locals snapping engagement, graduation, and sunset photos — because they can still “get out into the middle of the bridge” for the views. But, obviously, the plan reduces connectivity for daily users traveling between downtown and Northeast Minneapolis, he said.

Why can’t the bridge remain open during repairs?

Rumor has it that MnDOT is not being straight about why it’s closing the Stone Arch Bridge for two summers. Or, at least, that it’s not telling the full story.

One Twitter user claimed in September that MnDOT told the Minneapolis Pedestrian Committee that “they could stage it to keep it open (but half as wide)” and that “[i]f they stage it so people can use it for transportation, they might end up with kids hanging out on it or exploring it.”

The user didn’t respond to a request from Downtown Voices for more information, and MnDOT’s Johnson didn’t directly address the allegation.  

Johnson reiterated that the bridge is too narrow to safely remain open while crews are ferrying construction materials to and from the site.

“The safest way to complete this work is to close half of the bridge,” he said.

Public perceptions may be colored by the City’s decision last year to close the Stone Arch Bridge in the evenings around the Fourth of July. It was done in response to disruptive behavior the previous Fourth of July, when police responded to multiple reports of fireworks being discharged from vehicles near the bridge and elsewhere along the river.

Ever since, Councilmember Rainville has been especially vocal about public safety on and around the Stone Arch Bridge, and it's still a topic of concern during neighborhood meetings in the Mill District. He called the span “a great spot to screw around and misbehave” and blamed “kids coming in from the suburbs.” (In summer 2022, Rainville initially made comments singling out Somali teens during a community meeting, recorded by Wedge LIVE!, and later apologized.)

“We’ve heard from people concerned that this is being done as a backdoor way of minimizing what is perceived as criminal activity along the Stone Arch Bridge path, but we’ve had no conversations with MnDOT or anyone else” that indicate that’s true, said Lautenschlager of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association. He argued that creating an artificial dead end halfway across the span “could actually create more of a safety issue on the bridge,” or simply push disruptive behavior to the riverbank.

Van der Hagen, the Marcy-Holmes resident who regularly commutes across the bridge, agrees that an activated Stone Arch Bridge improves the area’s public safety.

“These sorts of problems come from the absence of people, not the abundance of them,” he said.

In fact, MnDOT made a persuasive case that the closures were not a backdoor public safety measure, according to people present at a Marcy-Holmes community meeting on Jan. 30, including Lautenschlager and Creative Enterprise Zone CFO Vince Netz. 

“No one expressed pushback,” Netz said.