NORTH MANKATO — The proposed pedestrian bridge over Highway 14 in North Mankato drew a mix of support and skepticism from residents during an open house Monday.
Eight residents attended a presentation on the project, which included three alternative designs and two possible locations connecting the Commerce Drive Business District to Caswell Park. Citizen feedback could contribute to a feasibility study on the bridge.
Some residents said they saw the need for a safer highway crossing for pedestrians as long as funding could be secured, while others asked if there would be enough use to justify it.
“I think the bridge is a good idea there,” said John Baker. “I know my kids would’ve used it. I know a lot of people out in Northridge will use it.”
Afterward, he confirmed his support was based on the project gaining enough funding. Other residents stated similar stances, saying there seemed to be a need, but how much of one depended on the funding.
One person asked whether funding could instead be used on making the nearby Lookout Drive and Lor Ray Drive overpasses safer for pedestrians. He also questioned how much desire there was for a pedestrian bridge.
Families indicated they wanted a safer crossing in previous studies, said Tony Rotchadl, a transportation engineer with Bolton & Menk who led the presentation Monday on behalf of the Mankato-North Mankato Area Planning Organization, or MAPO. The studies included North Mankato’s Safe Routes to School Plan from 2015 and MAPO’s long-range transportation plan.
The open house and feasibility study are considered early steps in the process toward any potential pedestrian bridge over Highway 14. A 2026-2030 timeline is the earliest likely window for any construction.
If completed, the bridge would cross the four-lane highway in a way that wouldn’t impact future highway expansion. The idea would be to connect trails and sidewalks south of Commerce Drive to trails and sidewalks leading to Benson Park on the north side.
In doing so, it would create a shortcut between Caswell Park and the Commerce Drive area’s food options, other businesses and new hotel. A bridge could also offer a more direct pedestrian route between Dakota Meadows Middle School north of the highway and South Central College and Hoover Elementary on the south side.
In response to the organizers saying the project would improve quality of life, resident Tom Hagen said he’s sure a similar point was brought up in Mankato when the city decided to build a pedestrian bridge over Riverfront Drive.
“They built it and in 10 years they tore it down,” he said. “ … So part of my question is you have to try think ahead and figure out, with where you are now, is this really going to be used.”
He described the project as a “wonderful want,” but questioned whether it was a need.
The bridge’s two prospective locations include one roughly running from the west side of Lloyd Lumber to Caswell Park. Known as alternative A, it could have a clear-span or pier-supported bridge with helical style approaches on each end.
Another location would be further west, running roughly from Coloplast Manufacturing to west Caswell Park. Alternative B calls for a clear-span bridge and extended embankments on each end, while alternative C would have a helical approach on the Caswell side and an extended embankment on the Commerce Drive side.
Project costs would range from $2.8 million to $4 million depending on the type of bridge and approaches, Rotchadl said. The alternatives will be presented to the North Mankato City Council and MAPO boards.
If one of the alternatives gets the go-ahead, MAPO and the city would starting looking for possible funding sources. Monday’s presentation stated the goal would be to “minimize and leverage local dollars” through grant, state and federal funding.
Rotchadl encouraged people who couldn’t attend Monday’s presentation to check out the designs and proposals online at mnmapo.org/hwy14bridge. The input gathered Monday will help for the feasibility study, he said.
“What we generally heard tonight was people are supportive and see the need,” he said. “It’s just a matter of identifying and securing the funding.”