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The railroad bridge over Scenic Highway 61 was torn down last week just south of Knife River. The highway will be detoured through December and again in the spring. Photo courtesy Alex Comb

Knife River bridge knocked down

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Knife River bridge knocked down
Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

Some might have called it quaint but now you call it gone as a 1922 railroad bridge over Scenic Highway 61 was taken down last week just south of Knife River.


The bridge, known for its narrow space between abutments and various graffiti over the years, will be replaced this spring. It means a detour on 61 will be in place at least through December and again when bridge and road construction begins in the spring.

It's part of an effort by the St. Louis and Lake County Regional Railroad Authority to shore up concrete bridges along the line from Duluth to Two Harbors used by the North Shore Scenic Railroad.

Two bridges in Duluth are on the fix-it list. The worst, over 32nd Street, has been replaced while one over 36th Street will be done in a few years, said Bob Manzoline, director of the rail authority.

The new Knife River bridge will be finished in May, Manzoline said. An improved roadway would need to be finished before Grandma's Marathon in June.

The Scenic Railroad season doesn't run over the winter months, meaning there won't be an interruption in the excursion train service.

The demolition will be followed with pouring new abutments before leaving work for the spring. Once the cross beams are up, Manzoline said, bridge work won't interfere with road work.

Ken Buehler runs the Scenic Railroad from Duluth and said the Knife River overpass bridge was a "wonderful old structure" but needed to be updated. Scenic 61 through the bridge curved and narrowed to get between concrete abutments. The plan is to make the opening wide enough for cars and a bikeway and to make the curve safer.

Lake County Highway Engineer Alan Goodman heard from businesses in Knife River the first week of the detour. By Tuesday, he was in front of the county board requesting that the detour be re-routed to keep more traffic flowing through the town.

The detour around the project, using Homestead Road to the south and Salakka Road north of Knife River, will be changed because businesses suffered a dramatic drop in customers. The southbound detour to the Highway 61 expressway will now allow drivers into Knife River proper with a detour using Central Avenue along the river. The Lake County Board of Commissioners agreed to make the change after it heard from Goodman. Crews will also put up directional signs to businesses. The changes will take place this week.

"We didn't think," board chairman Paul Bergman said Tuesday about the Salakka Road detour. It had been a natural pick because it has a newer road surface to handle the additional traffic. Business owners said the Central Avenue route is a more natural detour.

Goodman noted that Central is due for repairs in the next few years in case the detour causes any damage. There was talk of reducing the speed limit to 25 mph to keep traffic slowed.

The $1 million in bridge work and $250,000 road project is being paid for through rail authority taxes and county-state aid money, Goodman said. He is waiting for final roadway plans from the Minnesota Department of Transportation in Duluth. He said guard rails will be added along with a better drainage grade for about a quarter-mile.

The bridge was a remnant from the first highways carved up to the North Shore in the 1920s. Trunk Highway 1 was completed in the early 1920s and was dubbed the Lake Superior International Highway in 1926. It became Highway 61 in 1934.

Over the years, the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Railway shored up its former bridge, as the teardown revealed last week. Wood timbers were found under the layers of concrete. The Rail Authority has owned the "Lake Front Line" since 1990.

Buehler said it was too bad the DM&IRR's "Safety First" signs, painted onto the concrete of the bridge, couldn't have been preserved.