Minneapolis businesses brace for Central Avenue closing


Tough as it may be to even imagine the snow melting, it could be as little as a month to six weeks from now that Central Avenue will be down to one lane at the railroad viaduct (between 14th and what would be 16th avenues NE), as utilities do advance work.

When they’re done, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will then close the street entirely, and work with the railroad on replacing the bridge and the road that goes under it. The closure will start after Art-A-Whirl and be done by Art Attack, May 19 through early November.

Businesses have been encouraged to do advance work, too, to minimize the effect of not only the closure, but the requirement that the state designate only the major roads they own, as detours. Using Broadway, Johnson Street, Lowry and University will take casual traffic far out of reach of businesses along Central Avenue. The city of Minneapolis has the power to post other detours, such as 18th Avenue, and neighbors and business people asked Council Member Kevin Reich to help make sure that happens.

Lucy Bacon of Diamonds Coffee Shop said she’s pretty confident customers who regularly drive there will find Diamonds, but they could miss out on those who would drive by and stop on an impulse. And people who used to walk under the viaduct will have a lengthy walking detour.

At a MNDOT sponsored meeting Feb. 27, West Area Engineer Ron Rauchle and Bobbie Dahlke, MNDOT’s public information officer, told a handful of business people that in other situations like this, businesses have come together and spent their own money, or the affected cities have worked with and paid for the project’s contractors to post signage naming the businesses accessible through the detours.

A well-attended conflicting meeting, the start of planning for Lowry Avenue Northeast, was scheduled on the same night. At the Central Avenue meeting, held at the Fire Museum, here’s who attended: Lucy Bacon and Derrick Watson from Diamonds, Charles Rossow, an intern with Northeast Economic Development Council who is a University of Minnesota student also working at the Eastside Food Co-op, two people from Nimbus Theater, and toward the end of the meeting, Council Member Kevin Reich and Marty Carder from Central Avenue Car Wash.

They committed to having another meeting, Wednesday, March 19, 2 p.m. at Nimbus Theater, 1517 Central Ave. NE (to be confirmed), where information should be available on possible costs and sources of signage, advertising, special events and graphics; those attending could decide what to pursue. About 200 businesses will be notified by mail, and the letter or postcard will be translated to Spanish and Somali.

“The time is between the lunch rush and dinner rush, and hopefully before people will have to pick up their kids. No time is ideal for small business people, but we hope at least some representatives will be able to come,” various people chimed in.

About a week earlier, Feb. 19, Reich and traffic engineering staff from the city, Tim Drew and Shane Morton joined Elizabeth Willis, Transit Supervisor for the area, from Metro Transit, to answer questions at the Logan Park Neighborhood Association meeting about the bus detour and other arrangements.

After hearing that Monroe would be too congested if used as a bus route, before the meeting Metro Transit concluded they would move the detour to Fillmore Street, on the other side of Central, an additional 6-block walk for riders from the Monroe side.

Someone asked if northbound buses could use one side and southbound the other (Monroe for one, Fillmore for the other); Willis said that would be too complicated for riders.

Willis said they will put out signs starting a month before the buses have to detour and put out supervisors at the stops to inform them, direct them to the new stops, she said. Reich said there would be a meeting in Northeast Park to talk about what the detour will mean for them.

Someone asked about the possibility of modifying Fillmore’s traffic-calming speed humps into speed tables (less problematic for buses having to move very slowly), and it was suggested that perhaps the cost could be shared with the park board’s upcoming renovation of Northeast Park ballfields and other amenities.

It’s not only businesses, but residents, that will be affected as Central Avenue’s traffic re-routes itself. Drew said they will try to minimize the number of vehicles cutting through the neighborhoods, by using “no thru traffic” signs and asked neighbors to call 311 if traffic is excessive.

Suburban commuters will probably just follow the detours, Morton said. “Statistics show 60 percent of traffic will follow the detours, 20 percent will avoid the area altogether, and 20 percent will find the alternate routes.”

MNDOT was due to award the bid on Feb. 28, after which there would be some paperwork to confirm the chosen company meets equal employment opportunity standards, and then the project would go forward in six to eight weeks. They’ll start by building earth berms on either side to accommodate the “shoo fly” that will temporarily divert the railroad.

Xcel Energy will be re-locating their power line that is parallel to the track, tenatively March 10-25. Most of the work needed is by Centerpoint, replacing their steel gas mains far below the road, tenatively April 7-25 assuming the ground thaws and is not underwater.

Rauchle told the Feb. 27 group that if because of weather or other unforeseens it looked like anything could not be completed in fall, it would be completed in spring with partial lane closures. The roadway would then be opened earlier, mid-October, in exchange.

Rauchle said they are coordinating with the railroad, and have had success keeping another project on timeline with the same railroad involving closing Highway 12 in Maple Plain; “they have cooperated.”

Dahlke talked about keeping in contact once construction starts. As they have done with other projects, there would be weekly construction meetings with the contractor, and businesses could be invited to attend the tail end of those meetings. There will be Constant Contact emails that business people and others can sign up for.

The project website is mndot.gov/metro/projects/hwy65mpls/