I-35E construction plans face skeptical eye from East Siders


Eastern District patrol commander Kevin Casper hugs a resident at his last community policing meeting on Wednesday, July 17. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Community to meet with officials to voice concerns, find a resolution

With the Cayuga and MNPASS projects moving along on the Interstate 35E corridor, East Side community leaders are keeping an eye on the proposed plans.

The roughly $260 million set of projects will mean major changes to interchanges along the freeway on the stretch that runs along the East Side from downtown St. Paul to Larpenteur Avenue.

Leslie McMurray and the District 5 Community Council, as well as the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, are concerned that construction projects will leave the East Side cut off from the rest of the city. Current plans eliminate two pedestrian passageways that cross the busy freeway -- one at Cayuga Street and another at Arlington Avenue.

This would leave busy street-level pedestrian crossings as the main ways to get over the six-to-eight lane freeway, like the overpass bridges on Maryland and Arlington Avenues. These at-grade crossings do not suffice, McMurray said.

“They’ve removed the critical connection for our neighborhood,” McMurray said. She said the community is asking “for (MNDOT) to pony up and replace what they’ve taken away.”

McMurray has organized a community meeting for Wednesday, July 31, to discuss the concerns with all the parties involved. The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Arlington Hills Lutheran Church Community Room, 1115 Greenbrier Ave.

Arranging to get all the heads in the same room was a bit of a task -- the projects run through a variety of jurisdictions, all the way from MnDOT down through county and city levels.

McMurray has arranged for representatives of all the groups to attend the meeting, including county commissioners, MnDOT representatives, someone from the mayor’s office, and staff from state Rep. Tim Mahoney’s office.

“As with all projects of this scale, there are competing interests and perspectives,” a statement from the District 5 council reads. “The design concepts offered to date are starting points, but are not yet complete solutions. More work is needed.”

County commissioners chime in

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners identified the issue in a construction agreement for the project dated Tuesday, July 23.

“There remain unresolved issues on this project related to non-motorized transportation connections and features along I-35E,” it reads. The county board’s past four resolutions about the project have consistently addressed this issue.

Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman said the loss of the trail connections is significant. The paths, she said, are heavily used.

“(People) walk back and forth to jobs, medical needs, community events, and they need that trail back,” she said. “This is a 50 to 100 year project that must mitigate all of the losses that the East Side is experiencing.”

“This isn’t going to be done again ... for a long, long time, so we have to be sure we get it right,” she added.

In the document, the county board requests that MnDOT provides “mitigation for the loss of existing grade separated state trail.”

County resolutions in April and September of 2012 identify concerns around the project, including loss of pedestrian connections, the noise wall selection process, and other issues surrounding the major freeway reconstruction.

“Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle has stated his agency’s commitment to working toward a resolution of those issues that is acceptable to the community,” the county document states.

The county’s agreement with MnDOT includes throwing in $783,687 towards the project.

Breaking it down to basics, the meeting is just a way for the community to be heard, Rettman said.

“A lot of good, good people use this trail,” she said.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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