Rondo Bridge: Reuniting and Supporting a Community

Completing a bridge creates a sense of satisfaction on a lot of levels, but it’s rare when a bridge structure is actually designed to heal a community. Sure, bridges connect people and can create opportunities for connections that might not otherwise have happened. But those are usually side effects of the primary purpose of bridge: to connect roads and facilitate traffic flow.

The Rondo Landbridge—which is the Rondo community’s choice of terms—is not about roads and traffic. It’s about healing a community torn apart decades ago by the construction of I-94. The history of that rift is well-known and easily accessed.

The proposal to build a bridge that reconnects the Rondo community is still in its early stages, but early designs show a platform five blocks long over the top of I-94. So what are the engineering challenges of such a structure?

Tom Fisher, director of the University of Minnesota Design Center, has been working on this proposed design, and it’s going to have some elements that make it very different from a typical bridge over a highway. In some ways it’s going to have its own ecosystem with green space, a public park, buildings and even commercial space. It might even have trees.

In its current iteration, Fisher envisions retaining walls on each embankment being redeveloped to support the structure. These embankments, owned by MnDOT, will be a place for residential and commercial buildings. If these retaining walls provide enough support, there might not be any need for a central support system between the lanes of I-94 underneath the platform.

Fisher also envisions the structure being supported by a Vierendeel truss. The advantage to that design, he says, is it “allows people to inhabit the truss space itself, while also enabling the truss to span a long distance.”

Cyrus Knutson is the director of the Center for Community Connections for MnDOT and spokesperson for the project. The agency has done projects like this—essentially caps over highways—in other places around the state*. He says that the structure as it is currently proposed is just like other interstate overpasses with maybe a few different support requirements. What makes it really different from other bridges, he says, is the services that will need to be provided out to the platform. Water, sewer, electricity, and irrigation for the parks will make this structure different from a typical bridge.

The buildings proposed for both the retaining walls and the platform will be mixed use. In addition to housing and commercial space, says Fisher, there will be educational spaces, production facilities to provide jobs and even makers’ spaces. “It a great civil engineering project and I’d love to have the civil engineering community involved in it,” he adds.

*There are four caps in Duluth, one over the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis and a proposed platform over Hwy 100 in Edina.