Highway 53 bridge name contest down to final vote

The new Highway 53 bridge as it appeared on a MNDot webcam last Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.

Nearly complete, the Highways 53 and 135 rerouting project between the Mesabi Iron Range towns of Virginia, Eveleth and Gilbert will be Northern Minnesota’s largest, most expensive infrastructure project of our generation. The showpiece of the whole thing is a new Highway 53 bridge spanning the Rouchleau Pit outside Virginia.

That bridge is almost done. Within weeks, people will drive, walk and bike across the new “tallest bridge in the state of Minnesota.” Until recently, that title belonged to the John A. Blatnik Bridge between Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin.

But what will the Highway 53 bridge be called?

That’s where you come in. The Iron Range Tourism Bureau collected nominations for bridge names this summer. Executive Director Beth Pierce wrote a fascinating piece for Hometown Focus detailing dozens of interesting submissions. Well, the Iron Range Tourism Bureau has posted its finalists for an online vote. The winner of the online vote will be forwarded to Iron Range State Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) and State Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia). The state legislature will name the Highway 53 bridge, probably (though not necessarily) from the result of the vote.

And the nominees are …

So what are the nominations? Here are the proposed names for the new Highway 53 bridge between Eveleth and Virginia:

  • Mesabi Crossing
  • Iron Range High Bridge
  • Iron For America Bridge
  • Taconite Sky Bridge
  • Mesabi Veterans Memorial Bridge

You can vote for your choice here. They are asking one vote per person.

The yet-unnamed bridge will open for traffic sometime in August. The Iron Range Tourism Bureau has organized “Bridge Daze” Aug. 17-20, full of fun events celebrating the bridge and the history and communities it represents.

How I voted

I’ll offer my commentary on the list, which you can take or leave as you so choose.

This is a decent list of names. I will disclose that I submitted a name for the contest, but that it did not advance. I think the committee went with some safe choices, as there isn’t anything especially controversial here. That’s probably a good thing. While there are a number of people throughout Range history who probably deserve a bridge named after them, the likelihood would be that the name would come from a late 20th Century DFL politician. They avoided this outcome by not nominating any humans. They also avoided explicit references to the word “mining” or the labor movement in general. (My unsuccessful entry was “Mesabi Workers Memorial Bridge.”)

I believe the names of our public places are very important. They become a lasting cultural statement on who we are and where we think we are going. So here’s what I look for in a name:

  • Sense of Place. That means the name tells us where this bridge is located. It’s important to note that this is a regional bridge, not just one for the city of Virginia. For me, this means “Iron Range” or “Mesabi” must be in the name somewhere. Iron Range is what we tend to call our region today, but that name used to be less formal. In older texts, people referred to the “iron ranges of Minnesota” — lower case, simply referring to the iron ore formations. Mesabi is a name packed with meaning — an Ojibwa word for “giant.” “Mesabi” comes with an old legend about the glaciers and the riches of the land. It also names the largest historical iron range, the one still in active production.
  • Function. It’s a bridge, not a cologne or erectile dysfunction drug. “Bridge” is the best way to achieve this, though a word that implies bridge could work.
  • Imagery. The name evokes meaning, a mental picture that the bridge will represent to the people crossing it, whether they do so each day or maybe only once or twice in a lifetime.
  • Brevity. It’s got to fit on the sign and be easy to say or else people will just call it something else.

So my vote?

Mesabi Crossing.

“Mesabi Crossing” has a sense of place, squeaks by on function and comes loaded with imagery, packed into the shortest of the five entries.

The other names are fine. If people want the crystal clarity of “Iron Range High Bridge” or the reverence of “Mesabi Veterans Memorial Bridge,” then so be it. I love the imagery of “Taconite Sky Bridge” but the name lacks grounding in place. To me, “Iron for America Bridge” is a clunker. It’s got a message, to be sure, but it seems like a drunk noun trying too hard to pick up another noun’s preposition at a bar.

But hey, them’s just opinions. You can vote like me, or you can vote how you like, just vote!


  1. Karen Luoma-Varichak says

    Can’t vote for nominees–too boring.



  2. James Adamiak says

    Iron Range High Bridge is by far the BEST

  3. Karen Filipovich says

    Mesabi Crossing.

  4. Merritt Bros Gateway Bridge
    Seven iron men gateway bridge

  5. I still like my submission “Northern Lights Bridge”, but I understand why they want the name to reflect mining😊Thus I’d choose Taconite Sky Bridge between the five final titles…

  6. Mesabi Crossing definitely out of this list.

  7. how about the taxpayer memorial bridge?, wasn’t that a red ore mine, not a taconite mine?

  8. JoAnn Bockoven says

    Mesabi Crossing seems the only logical choice

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