Dan DuHamel, vice chair of Northeast’s Beltrami Neighborhood Council (BNC), said he and his neighbors really like their neighborhood. But once in a while, they’d also like to be able to leave it.
He was referring to a longstanding Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) plan to build on and off I-35W highway ramps in the neighborhood. MnDOT staff put the plan on a faster track after the I-35W bridge collapsed, as a way to ease congestion in the University of Minnesota area and provide another way for commuters to get downtown.
Officials hoped to get the work done this year, but it now appears to be on hold.
The ramp proposed for southbound I-35W would direct traffic onto Buchanan Street NE, and south to East Hennepin. Buchanan wouldn’t be a through street for the neighborhood anymore; a section of it in the 300 block would be blocked by portable concrete median barriers.
“There are only two streets out of Beltrami, Buchanan and Pierce,” DuHamel said. “This plan cuts our access to East Hennepin down to Pierce. We like being here, but we also want to get out. It’s already hard to turn left onto East Hennepin from Buchanan.”
At a Sept. 20 public hearing hosted by the Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation Committee, MnDOT officials announced that the temporary ramp plan is now “off the table,” although they might revisit it in the spring of 2008, DuHamel said. He added that it’s good news for now, but many neighbors still feel uneasy about it, like the issue is looming over them.
He said many neighbors have been vocal in opposing the ramps. Although MnDOT owns the three acres in question (proposed for the south off-ramp), BNC has been working on a development plan in which the city would acquire the land from the state, and a developer would build senior housing on it.
MnDOT officials were receptive to the idea, but “That was before the bridge collapse,” DuHamel said. “Before the collapse, MnDOT’s priority was to have it transferred to the city. It’s frustrating, because it’s a nice piece of land and we’d like to see it developed.”
Another problem the ramp would have caused for residents, he added, is that it took away all the parking for an apartment building and duplex at the Buchanan-East Hennepin intersection. “They would just have had to deal with it; they’d have to get in on East Hennepin.”
MnDOT officials said it would cost up to a million dollars to build the new ramps, DuHamel added. And, they also projected that the ramps would put a total of about 30,000 vehicles a day onto East Hennepin.
“Before the bridge collapsed, there were about 13,000 vehicles a day on East Hennepin. Now, there are nearly 19,000 a day,” DuHamel said. “There are 16 industrial businesses on East Hennepin that are already having trouble getting trucks in and out of their driveways when the traffic is so heavy.”
John Vaughn, Northeast Community Development Corporation (NE CDC) executive director, said that NE CDC holds exclusive development rights from the city for the three acres. “The idea was that the city would get the land from MnDOT, NE CDC got development rights, and we would cede our rights so Beltrami could develop it. But the city could not get MnDOT to transfer the land; it was stalled for three years. Although we still have development rights, I wasn’t thinking about it anymore until MnDOT came up with the ramp proposal.”
Vaughn said if the ramps were built, the increased traffic would turn East Hennepin into a major through street, similar to University and Snelling avenues. “Beltrami is a small neighborhood, and they feel like they’re being ignored. Not only are they being told they might not be able to do their development, but [under the new ramp plan] they might get hemmed in by traffic.”
The second half of MnDOT’s temporary ramp plan (which MnDOT provided to Beltrami neighbors) would block off the Stinson exit for northbound I-35W traffic so that vehicles would use the Johnson Street NE exit (which also has a Stinson Boulevard outlet).
(Last week, workers were continuing to resurface I-35W and the East Hennepin entrance out of Northeast onto southbound I-35W was closed. The proposed East Hennepin off ramp would come just north of the Fourth Street and University Avenue off-ramp. After the bridge collapse, the Fourth and University exit became the last exit off 35W north of the river. The bridge fell just south of University Avenue; wreckage–and the broken part, which still arcs upward into nothingness–is visible from University and the 10th Avenue bridge near the University of Minnesota.)
Arvonne Fraser, president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, said that when I-35W was built, it divided their neighborhood. Consequently, she added, residents pay close attention to anything that has to do with the highway.
“We would not like to see an off ramp at East Hennepin. It could have a negative impact. We are worried about a lot of traffic trying to get through our neighborhood on residential streets. East Hennepin has been very busy since the bridge went down. We have already opposed the city’s public works department’s idea to make traffic move faster on East Hennepin. If they add a ramp that goes through the Beltrami neighborhood, cars will just speed through. That is not fair to the new and old businesses on East Hennepin.”
Diane Hofstede, Minneapolis Third Ward City Council Member, said she had learned last week that MnDOT would likely withdraw the ramp proposal. “I think they will be doing some traffic studies. The neighborhood doesn’t want to see the ramps. We are not a pass-through, we are a community. There are a lot of issues involved, [and they had been going to undertake this] without any study. The neighborhoods and other people all over the metro area need to step forward and make their views known.”
Last Friday, MnDOT spokesman Michael O’Keefe was out of his office and did not return phone calls. Project manager John Chiglo’s answering machine was full and not taking messages.