Central Avenue resurfacing planned

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They came with bike helmets in hand, to say “as long as you’re going to be working on the street, put in some decent bike lanes.” Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is planning to renovate Highway 65 (Central Avenue) next year, and officials held open houses at the Northeast Library June 28 and 30 to let anyone affected ask questions and make suggestions; bikers came out in remarkable numbers.

The project involves Third Avenue in downtown Minneapolis starting at Washington Avenue, and continues along Central Avenue through the Old St. Anthony area, Northeast and Columbia Heights, stopping at 53rd Avenue NE. There are two exceptions: the stretch that was fully rebuilt recently, 27th to 37th, and a head-scratcher between 14th and 18th avenues NE.

There, engineers are still contemplating how to get more clearance under the railroad bridge south of the Thorp Building. It’s not as simple as digging down deeper, as there’s a huge pipe one foot below the pavement. It’s a busy rail line handling 50 to 70 passes a day and the operation would require at least a temporary replacement bridge “shoo fly” around the spot, engineers said. Rebuilding the bridge entirely, next to the current bridge, would create other height problems. Bridge replacement is listed under “future projects” for 2013-2014 in the handouts from the open house.

Speaking of railroads, while they’re at it, MnDOT will modify the approach to the tracks near 35th Avenue NE where cars “launch” even at posted speeds. When the railroad renovated their tracks at about six inches higher than the roadway, they built up the pavement approach but it still made for a surprising ride. MnDOT will build it up further with a bit longer approach. It won’t be perfect, but it should be better, they say.

While motorists will see workers along Central Avenue throughout summer 2012, the road surface treatment planned is mill-and-overlay, not full reconstruction. It will require shutting down access on one half of the project area over a weekend, and then the other half on a different weekend, to be announced closer to the actual time. People who attended the open house gave officials local parade dates to avoid.

Before the mill and overlay, for most of the summer, workers will repair some drainage pipes, and catch basins on bus shoulders will be reinforced. They will reconstruct sidewalk corners at approximately 50 intersections with curb ramps and “truncated domes” (raised bumps on the sidewalk surface to indicate an intersection) to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. Traffic signals will be improved for handicapped accessibility with push button stations and countdown pedestrian indications.

While there may be lane, shoulder, and sidewalk closures, “pedestrian detours will be established and no two consecutive intersections will be closed simultaneously,” according to MnDOT literature.

The engineers said most businesses would see minimal disruption, perhaps a week of activity in front of their places, “and there will always be TPAR—temporary pedestrian access routes—marked, said Ben Lodin of MnDOT. Utilities are always encouraged to do any underground work that they think will be needed, before a mill and overlay, so those operations may also affect individual businesses, he said. A few business people came to the open houses, officials said.

In Anoka County, they’ll install Audible Pedestrian Signals at every signalized corner. The pedestrian pushes a button, and an automated voice speaks when it should be safe to cross. A blind resident at the June 28 open house said that is much appreciated. MnDOT officials said the City of Minneapolis did a study and determined APS was not needed enough to warrant the expense in that section.

Back to the bicycle riders: Erik Ostrom said his main Northeast travel route is from home, in Logan Park, to the Eastside Food Cooperative at 26th and Central. He now rides on side streets, taking the Monroe Street “sharrow” to 18th, and then cutting over to Jackson. He said he sees other people on bikes when he’s out.

A sharrow is a lane that’s available to both bikes and autos, marked with a graphic of a bike rider with two chevron arrows above it, warning drivers that they have to share the lane. “I get some resentment about bikes in the lane,” Ostrom said, “but I feel safer in a sharrow.”

MnDOT’s literature notes that they are coordinating with Minneapolis “on provisions of bicycle facilities,” currently considering narrowing one of the car lanes and put in sharrow markings which put more psychological room between bicycles and car doors opening in the parking lane.

“Bike Walk Twin Cities is advocating for bike lanes on both sides. Central would go down to one car lane each direction and one shared turn lane in the middle,” Ostrom said. Other ideas involve adding sharrows to Polk and Jackson instead.

Andrew Lyman-Butler said “there are routes from the river to St. Anthony, but no north-south routes in Northeast” beyond 18th Avenue, nothing up to Columbia Heights.

Ostrom said he’s lived in St. Peter, Minnesota and San Jose, California, the latter a perfect climate for biking year-round, though he seldom saw other bikers there. In Minneapolis, “it’s striking, the community support here for biking.”

MnDOT officials told the Northeaster the bikers were the largest interest group represented during the open houses. “They came with their helmets in hand, that tells you they biked here to give their comments,” Bre Magee, of the public affairs staff, said.

Pedersen said MnDOT will answer all of the comments or questions made on cards at the open house, “whether or not we can do anything about some of them.”

The project website listed on MnDOT literature is dot.state.mn.us/projects/hwy65/index.html though the link is inactive at this time. The MnDOT website explains that due to the state government shutdown, web pages have not been updated since June 30. The officials at the open house said a short-term shutdown would not affect the project bidding cycle. Contact information for Scott Pedersen, West Area Engineer, is 651-234-7726, email scott.pedersen@state.mn.us, though his voice mail states that he and most people in the department are out until the shutdown is resolved.