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Sartell wants to reopen historic bridge over Mississippi River to pedestrians, bikers

If it gets approved, the bridge could be open to pedestrians as soon as next year.

The City of Sartell is hoping to turn the historic Old Sartell Bridge into a pedestrian and bike bridge over the Mississippi River. 

The 420-foot steel comeback through truss bridge was built in 1914, connecting Sartell Street to the east and west areas of Sartell, the Minnesota Department of Transportation's website says. It was closed in 1984 and is now known as the "utility bridge" because it carries utility connections for the east side of the city. 

But the City of Sartell, in hopes of improving the area around the river, wants to open the bridge to pedestrians and bike users, connecting the long-closed bridge to a new asphalt bike trail that's planned on the west side of the river, according to city documents.

The pedestrian improvements, estimated to cost $979,570, would include a switch-back trail access to the bridge directly across from Sartell Street, with city documents noting only minor improvements to the bridge would be needed (lifting a few sections of the platform, adding lighting and improving fencing).

According to the Sartell City Council meeting on April 26, the bridge wouldn't be open to the east side of the river until a later date when that area is developed (you could cross the river but would have to turn back), but council members and the city are determining if they can create some type of green space or turnaround space on the east side of the river so people have a reason to cross it.

The area on the east side of the bridge includes the former Verso Paper Mill, which was cleared after a deadly explosion in 2012, the St. Cloud Times notes. City staff said during the meeting they should know more in a few months about the ownership and future of the site, without providing further detail.

"When something does happen on the mill site, to be able to engage that and to have that as a crossing will be really, really cool," Sartell Mayor Ryan Fitzthum told the Times.

The pedestrian improvements would also include a 28-foot long river overlook between 4th Street North and 5th Street North, along the new proposed pedestrian trail. 

These proposals are part of various improvements the city hopes to make as part of a larger $12.5 million improvement project along County Road 1 in conjunction with the reconstruction of the roadway. (Stearns County is planning to narrow County Road 1 from Sartell Street north to 12th Street North and add a trail on the east side of the roadway to run along the Mississippi River in 2022.)

Other aspects in the city's improvement project include reconstruction of the water main, sewer and utility; stormwater improvements and stormwater treatment; pedestrian crossing systems; and lighting improvements. 

The Sartell City Council on April 26 discussed the feasibility report for the proposed improvements and set a preliminary assessment hearing for May 24. 

But the improvement project isn't a sure thing yet. The city will submit the project to MnDOT for approval in July, and then the City Council and Stearns County would have to approve the final plan, which could come in October. 

If approved, construction would happen between April and November 2022, and a final assessment hearing would be held in September 2022, city documents state.

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