Preliminary work has been completed on the Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad tracks over Raymond Avenue, a project that will accelerate in January. BNSF will replace the bridge, and the railroad has announced that Raymond will be closed to all vehicular traffic between Energy Park Drive and Blake Street from March 16 to July 23.
The St. Anthony Park Community Council first learned of the project in late September. The council invited BNSF to attend its October board meeting. Railroad officials postponed that appearance but did attend the council’s Nov. 13 meeting.
At that time, council members were surprised to learn of the project’s duration. “We had no idea it was going to be four months,” said Executive Director Amy Sparks.
According to Jim Lanier of BNSF, the railroad’s major construction projects are on a five-year timeline, and the Raymond bridge was due to be replaced now. He said they will raise the grade of the track about three feet so as to gain a foot of clearance under the bridge, which will bring the height into compliance with current law.
The span of the new bridge will be similar to the current one, Lanier said, but there will no longer be iron piers between the sidewalk and street. The existing stone abutments will be left in place because of their historic value.
Raymond is a county road, and Ramsey County is considering future improvements to Raymond but has not made plans for them yet, according to Ken Haider, Ramsey County engineer.
City engineer Paul St. Martin said there might be money available from capital improvement bonds for use on Raymond after the bridge is completed. He said federal funds have covered some traffic-calming projects the city was expecting to pay for during the next four to six years, leaving a potential surplus.
Before the bridge is built, pilings will be driven in connection with raising the track grade. That procedure is scheduled Mondays through Thursdays, Jan. 12–Feb. 12, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., according to BNSF’s Steven Forsberg.
Forsberg said the noise from pile driving will be above 65 decibels, which will require a city permit.
During discussion at the Nov. 13 meeting, concern arose that the closure of Raymond could coincide with repairs to Highway 280, which is presumed to be the main alternative to Raymond.
Notified of the concern that both routes might be restricted in spring or summer, state Rep. Alice Hausman invited city, county and state officials, along with BNSF officials, to a meeting on Dec. 12 to coordinate plans for the two highway projects.
At the meeting, it was immediately clear that the two projects will coincide; neither BNSF nor MnDOT was willing to reconsider. MnDOT Manager Chris Roy explained that changes to the interchange at 280 and Larpenteur/Hennepin have already been delayed a year by the emergency bridge replacement on I-35W. He said federal funding for the project “sunsets in March,” so further delay is impossible.
Roy said most of 280 will be down to one lane each way from early April through August. The project will be on hold during State Fair, and then lanes will close again, at least near Broadway, into fall.
South St. Anthony Park resident and District Council member Sherm Eagles expressed concern about pedestrians and bikes, which can’t use 280, whether its lanes close or not.
“We’ve been working with the railroad on that,” said city engineer John Maczko. “Pedestrian and biking will be open most of the time.”
Lanier said details are still being worked out, but there will be a lighted tunnel under the bridge, six feet wide and eight feet high.
“That’s going to allow pedestrians, bikes, handicapped people and so on” to get through while Raymond is closed, Lanier said, although the tunnel will be closed for a day or two occasionally, for safety reasons. BNSF’s Brian Sweeney estimated the tunnel would be closed for about 10 days over the course of the bridge work.
Lanier said that during the early weeks of construction, March through the first week of May, Raymond might be open evenings and weekends, including Fridays, when crews aren’t working on the bridge.
Samantha Henningson, legislative aide to Ward 4 Councilmember Russ Stark, asked about Metro Transit bus route 87, which runs along Raymond. No one at the meeting could speak for Metro Transit. Hausman asked that city, county and railroad officials keep Metro Transit informed.
The possibility was raised that the U of M transitway might serve as a bus detour. City and county officials said no other vehicles are likely to be allowed on the transitway because its design and signals do not serve cars and trucks.
Hausman and Eagles said St. Anthony Park Elementary and Murray Junior High could be affected by the project. Eagles said he thinks very few children walk from south St. Anthony Park to the school but that parents do drive their children and will experience significant delays from the detour. Hausman said school buses will have to be rerouted and asked that the city inform the school district as soon as possible.
BNSF’s Lynn Leibfried said there will be signs posted on each side of the bridge with weekly updates. Lanier said he will be available to answer questions, although he might refer some inquiries to BNSF headquarters in Kansas City.
Supervisor of Structures