County, MnDOT to allocate funds for I-35E pedestrian paths


The Gateway Trail pedestrian and bicycle bridge over Interstate 35E will be removed with the widening of the freeway for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s MnPass project. East Side officials have been pushing to replace the pedestrian crossings that were last due to freeway construction, and have struck a deal with the county and MnDOT. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Local officials tout it as a win for the neighborhood

After a lengthy process and months of neighbors putting pressure on MnDOT, East Side pedestrians’ freeway woes have at least partially been answered.

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners voted to spend up to $175,000 for improvements to pedestrian walkways along the I-35E corridor. MnDOT will match that amount, for a total of up to $350,000 to be put towards East Side pedestrian improvements.

“I think the community has something to celebrate with this investment,” said Leslie McMurray, director of the Payne-Phalen District Council.

The roughly $350,000 will go towards building a north-south separated bike and pedestrian trail along the east side of the freeway. The project’s current cost is estimated at around $321,000, but plans are preliminary.

City Council member Amy Brendmoen called the proposed path “a good north-south connection that gets East Siders into downtown.”

St. Paul will not be financing the construction of a new East Side path, but will contribute by maintaining it once it’s built.

McMurray and the council worked tirelessly with MnDOT, St. Paul Public Works, and the county to find a solution for lost trail connections that would be taken away with the coming of two freeway construction projects.

The construction projects - the $220 million MnPass freeway widening project and the Cayuga intersection project - were going to compromise existing pedestrian crossings over the long stretch of freeway, to the protest of East Siders. 

The MnPass project introduces a toll lane that caters to suburbanites commuting into downtown St. Paul.

The trail will connect to pedestrian and bike paths crossing the freeway at Arlington Avenue and Cayuga Street. It will also connect with the Gateway Trail, the regional recreational corridor that currently crosses the freeway over a DNR-owned former railroad bridge.

That railroad bridge will be demolished as part of the project, and will not be replaced, and so the regional trail’s freeway crossing will be re-routed to a street-level crossing at Arlington Avenue.

However, once the connection crosses the freeway, it does not currently re-connect with the Gateway Trail on the west side of I-35E.

Environmental justice

Until the partnership between the county and MnDOT was announced, not a whole lot was planned to make up for lost freeway crossings.

Ramsey County commissioner Janice Rettman spearheaded the county’s role in getting funds for the East Side trail -- “it’s an environmental justice thing to me,” she said, noting that there are residents on either side of the freeway who walk back and forth to jobs and to visit family, and could use as many connections over the freeway as they can get.

Dale Gade, engineer for MnDOT, said the new trail will begin with a connection to the Gateway Trail near Arlington Avenue, and head south along the freeway to connect with a pedestrian and bike crossing at Cayuga Street.

Designs for the path are preliminary at this point -- the specific location of the path could change, and factors such as whether extra lighting will be needed have not yet been assessed, Gade said.

Once plans are more hashed out, they’ll be available on the MnPass and Cayuga Project websites, he said.

Construction of the path should be complete by summer 2015 at the latest, Gade said, well in advance of the 2016 scheduled completion of the MnPass project.

McMurray said the district council will hold a meeting to review the new bike path plan, allowing residents to give input on the rough plans. Though not yet scheduled, she said it should be on the calendar by the end of May.

Rettman said the goal of the path is simple: “a safe pedestrian connection along the whole width” of the MnDOT projects.

McMurray noted that the process of getting funding for pedestrian access was an uphill battle. The district council has been working on the issue for about two and a half years.

“It was hard won,” she said. “The community should not have had to work that hard.”

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

 

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