Throwback Thursday: A brief history of the Interstate 94 walking bridge
FARGO -- If you’re looking for a signature landmark for Fargo, you probably wouldn’t think twice about the pedestrian bridge that crosses Interstate 94 just west of University Drive.
It has no formal name and was built purely out of necessity but, thanks to its placement and the perspectives it offers, it certainly holds a niche in our collective psyche.
The bridge was first proposed by North Dakota Highway Commissioner Walter R. Hjelle back in October of 1973. Hjelle said at the time that his department had heard safety concerns from citizens who lived in the area.
“We have received several reports indicating some students have been observed crossing the Interstate on foot pointing out the need for immediate action before a tragedy occurs,” Hjelle said at the time.
The project was given the green light and on Aug. 14, 1976, The Forum ran a photo of the bridge in progress, giving it a completion date of sometime before October.
The bridge was originally painted red, white and blue in honor of the nation’s bicentennial, a 2012 Forum report said. It was painted blue in 1978 and hadn’t been repainted until just a few years ago (more on that in a second).
Since its construction, the bridge has been a constant companion to metro commuters and travelers driving underneath it. Of course, it’s also provided pedestrians with the unique experience of being able to stand, walk, bike or run over a busy stretch of interstate. This distinction often puts the bridge at the center of attention.
In 2005, The Forum ran a photo of the caged interior of the bridge as part of its “Valley View” photo feature.
In 2008, Forum photographer Carrie Snyder caught up with Fargo resident Rod Walker, who was standing on the bridge for a couple hours every Sunday alongside an American flag. That year, he was out honoring the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City.
“I’m just here as an American who loves my country,” Walker said at the time. “It’s not about me; I don’t want it ever to be about me. It’s about that flag. I just happen to be the person who is up here holding it.”
In 2009, Forum Photo Editor Mike Vosburg caught this image of Fargo South High cross country runners training on the bridge.
In 2015, photographer W. Scott Olsen snapped this eerie photo from the bridge at 3 a.m., when no cars were visible on I-94, as part of a photo essay on the F-M we don’t see as we sleep.
By 2012, the bridge was 36 years old and badly in need of a facelift. Its blue paint had faded, prompting a citizen effort to get it repainted.
"I would like to see something that represents the city, like Bison colors," Jen Hoy, an amateur artist and lifelong Fargo resident, said at the time. "We need more art in the city, not just downtown."
Creating something with a lot of colors would require a lot of upkeep, Kevin Gorder, assistant district engineer for the state Department of Transportation, said in 2012.
"How do you maintain an artistic bridge with multiple colors?" Gorder asked. "From our perspective, we would prefer to pick something that blends in, matches the environment and can be easily maintained."
In the end, the bridge was painted to its present green color as part of a massive I-94 improvement project in the summer of 2013. According to a Forum report from June of that year, crews had to wear protective suits and drape huge tarps down to the roadway in order to collect the old paint, which was possibly lead-based. Work was concluded in August, and a renovated bridge began to greet the scores of commuters that go under it, and over it, daily.