The rumors are true, the “shoo-fly” project to take trains around the railroad viaduct between 14th and 18th avenues on Central is three to four weeks behind schedule. And it’s due to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) having issues with getting materials in to build their part of the solution.
Jeff Lohaus, a metal artist in the Northrup King Building with a “ringside seat” at the end of the dock next to the tracks, said, “They finished building the bed for the rail bypass about mid-June and since then there are only a few guys working just a few hours on just some days. Other days no one comes at all.”
The latest word from the railroad is that the track is all laid. They say they are now trying to schedule a window of time to have the track not in use so that they can disconnect the old tracks, put in the switchover pieces (that are now sitting on the triangular lot at 14th and Central) and be ready for the next train to use the new track.
Meanwhile, some Central Avenue businesses report that their loyal local customers are still finding them despite the closed road, but their drive-by traffic is down as predicted. And neighbors are seeing, also predicted, that traffic on the “informal detour” streets such as Monroe and Fillmore (where the buses run) is up and sometimes impatient.
Bobbie Dahlke, public relations representative for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, responsible for replacing the bridge, said “we don’t want to throw our partners under the bus.” MNDOT’s contractor completed building the earth mound onto which the railroad would need to construct their new temporary rails. “In the legal hierarchy, we are at their mercy,” Dahlke said of the railroad. “Since then, we have been working with them and they’ve been trying to expedite” the base rock and tracks which they’d been trucking in to save time.
Amy McBeth of BNSF said “We did experience some delays getting the materials on site, but we are looking at ways to reduce the time needed during subsequent stages of the project.”
She added, “A bridge project requires significant work windows, which means taking this main route out of service while crews are working. The work windows are planned so that reroutes can occur or traffic can be held at other locations, which impacts our rail network.”
“Similar to road construction on the highways, we do maintenance and expansion projects during this time of year. We need to complete the work before it freezes and before our peak season, which is later in the year during the period that leads into the holidays.”
McBeth said this next step will require two six to ten-hour windows (one for each direction) in which trains would be held up elsewhere or re-routed.
“We’re fairly confident that we’ll get the street open by winter,” Dahlke said, but will have to finish the work in spring with single-lane closures, rather than being able to work with all lanes open. Workers have expressed hope, she said, that they can catch up, but it all depends on what they find once they start demolishing the old bridge.
Kim Robinson at the Ideal Diner on the Broadway side said her business has been affected. On the other side of the barrier, at The Mill NE, 19th and Central, co-owner Mandy Zechmeister said it would appear that their weekday evening business is down. They opened in late fall last year so they don’t have year-to-year data to compare to. Across the street, Isela Perez Pachecho of Maya Cuisine, said she can tell that her traffic that usually would come from downtown Minneapolis “has disappeared. They don’t know how to find me.”
The Central Avenue Closure Committee announced on its Facebook page a potential block party slated for September 6. The group meets at Diamonds Coffee Shop every other Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Dahlke said that there are weekly construction meetings which anyone can attend, 9:00 a.m. in the 1620 Central Avenue building, “walk in the front door and off to the right, it says ‘MNDOT’ but we would like to know if someone’s coming. Sometimes the meetings only last 10-15 minutes.” She said people can call her at 651-234-7503 if they want to sit in, or if they need someone to come out to a meeting.
The Northeast Network may feature Central Avenue as the topic of their Aug. 14 meeting at a place to be announced, 7:30 a.m.