Ask anyone who lives near an urban interstate highway and you’ll get an opinion, usually in the form of a complaint: traffic loads, noise, entry and exit ramps, construction delays, or all of the above.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is currently conducting a study specifically for that part of I-35 from the commons (Where I-35 and I-94 intersect, south of downtown) to County Road C in Roseville. The study includes 13 miles of pavement, 18 crossings, 47 bridges (and two pedestrian bridges) and seven interchanges, used by 110,000 vehicles per day. This study may help address some of those complaints.
MnDOT’s North Gateway Project Team is in the process of visiting 16 neighborhoods in four municipalities. Two members of the team attended the April 1 meeting of the Beltrami Neighborhood Council Board. Erik Baxstrom, MnDOT Metro Pubic Engagement Coordinator, and John Griffith, former MnDOT Metro District West Area manager, brought with them a ten-foot-long aerial map of the highway, which they taped to the meeting room wall.
Baxstrom explained their presence: “We’re doing preliminary outreach to neighborhood organizations of the areas that the highway goes through. While a lot of people use the highway in their cars, lots more might experience the freeway as a barrier. We’re here tonight to gather anything and everything you’d like to see changed on 35W, your hopes and dreams about the highway, if you’ve ever sat up at night and thought, ‘I’d really like to see this done on 35W.’ We don’t do this for every project, so this is a good opportunity to have your say on this stretch of road, how it impacts your lives, and how changes can help you and the livability of your community in the future.”
Baxstrom noted that there were no specific projects planned for the area, except for infrastructure maintenance and the replacement of the Fifth Street pedestrian bridge near Dinkytown (the bridge will close in mid-May and be demolished in June of this year). He said this study asks three questions of its users: What are your experiences crossing I-35W? If MnDOT could change one thing about I-35W to make it easier to get around, what would it be? And how do people in your community get their information, and how can we keep you informed?
There were several questions from Beltrami board directors, including concerns about contamination where the highway intersects rail tracks near Broadway and Johnson Streets. Griffith replied, “There is some contamination along that corridor near the railroad. One of the solutions was to add water runoff capacity to the area. As we look at the project…that may be a place for more stormwater ponds. As far as contamination, I think it’s safe to be there, but there is some concern that digging may expose something above the regulatory limits. With the consolidation of Johnson Street and Stinson, there was some talk about adding on to the road behind Stewart Lumber and creating some development opportunities.”
Directors and BNC staff were invited to write concerns on sticky notes to place on the wall map at the specific locations. Several of the notes were about access to crossing points (not enough) and width of pedestrian bridges (too narrow). Two notes mentioned the difficulty of bicycles passing pedestrians on the bridges, and three notes listed troublesome left-turn lanes at Broadway, Hennepin and Stinson Boulevard. One suggestion was to put a “lid” on sections of the below-grade highway, creating more green space. Griffith answered, “There’s no proposal that’s off the table.”
Baxstrom stressed that the meeting was just a beginning: “The next phase after preliminary outreach will be a more internal process developing the purpose and need of the study. The need is the problem to be solved and the purpose is how the study and future projects intend to solve it. Then concept development and design followed by the final phase, preferred design. This will all wrap up by the end of 2019 and at each stage we will again engage with the public in various ways. We know we have to do work in this area, because of general infrastructure needs. We know that some things have to be rehabbed, so we are trying to get out ahead of any project and ask the community what they’d like to see in this corridor, things that could be rolled into this project. The earlier we do that, the better.”
Below: Beltrami community members put their wishes for I-35W on a photograph of the freeway. (Photo by Mark Peterson)