To Build a Bridge, You Must Cross Troubled Waters

When St. Paul needed to replace a bridge at a historic crossing of the Mississippi, just about everyone in the city had an opinion

When the people of St. Paul realized that their historic Wabasha Street Bridge the city's most important span would have to be replaced, they hoped a new one might serve as a landmark. The mayor set up a task force, stipulating that an artist be included in the process. A competition drew some 60 applications, including proposals from well-known sculptors and architects. The winner, James Carpenter, has created dramatic shapes of glass and metal for airports and other public facilities. For the new Wabasha Street Bridge, he envisioned a cable-stayed bridge a type rare in the United States with a unique, twin-mast design. Tilting like wings in a V, the twin masts would draw the eye to an island where the bridge touched down on its way across the river.

The majority of the task force members loved the V-mast design, but when it was put before the public, the fur started flying. It would be too expensive, many citizens argued. It wasn't right for St. Paul. One opponent of the V-mast said it looked like a metal brassiere from Madonna's show costume.

The story of the Wabasha Street Bridge, and of St. Paul's struggle to find a design and a price that everyone could live with, reflects a process going on in communities all over the country as they try to come to grips with the problems, complexities and compromises involved in building bridges.

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