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New Iron Range bridge won't have name until 2018

The new Highway 53 bridge stands 200 feet high, the tallest in Minnesota. Bob King / Forum News Service

VIRGINIA, Minn. — The people spoke, but not everybody agrees on what to name the new bridge on the Iron Range — a decision that ultimately belongs to the state Legislature.

"Taconite Sky Bridge" won a contest conducted by the Iron Range Tourism Bureau to name the U.S. Highway 53 bridge in Virginia.

Among five finalists, the name garnered more than one third of 1,400 votes cast, said Beth Pierce, director of the Iron Range Tourism Bureau.

"It was by far the most popular," she said.

But Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe Jr. and the City Council are thinking differently, letting a committee-as-a-whole meeting this week come and go without endorsing the contest winner.

Cuffe said he personally didn't approve of the name because the Rouchleau mine pit spanned by the new bridge didn't yield taconite, but rather iron ore.

"Because the bridge goes over an iron ore pit it makes sense to name it for iron ore," he said. "It should be a simple name and have some kind of attachment to where it's at."

The majestic bridge was dedicated in a well-attended ceremony last week and opened to traffic over the weekend. It's part of the $230 million relocation of Highway 53 between Eveleth and Virginia. The project was supervised by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and completed in less than two years.

Cuffe admitted there are divergent name ideas everywhere he turns.

"There's no consensus," he said.

He favors using Rouchleau in the name, but the tourism bureau's naming committee rejected the word as too obscure and didn't include any references to it among the finalists in its contest, which also included Mesabi Crossing, Iron for America Bridge, Iron Range High Bridge and Mesabi Veterans Memorial High Bridge. Taconite Sky was announced as the winner last week.

"We wanted something more Range-wide versus Quad Cities Bridge or Virginia Bridge," Pierce said.

A nameplate embossed with further details and information about the bridge as well as a time capsule are being held back until the bridge does have a name. Cuffe explained that the Legislature won't pick up the issue until some point during its 2018 session. He's expecting an answer by May. Until then, he said he'll send an email to local state legislators asking, among other things, that they avoid naming it after an individual, politician or organization.

"It should be named appropriate for the history of the area," he said.

Meanwhile, Pierce said the tourism bureau knew going in that its contest wasn't binding in any way.

"We did this for fun," she said. "If our elected officials take notice and like one or any of the names that were finalists, that would be great. If they don't, that's fine, too."

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