You can’t get there from here


During the thawed-out months of 2009, it seemed as if every construction vehicle in Minnesota must be working in either St. Anthony Park or Lauderdale.

Early signs of a busy construction season included utility work during March at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad bridge over Raymond Avenue north of Energy Park Drive, and at the Larpenteur-Hennepin interchange of Highway 280, as Xcel Energy and other utilities moved their lines clear of the project areas.

At the end of April, the Minnesota Department of Transportation began work along 280. Concrete repairs and guardrail installation at the interchange with I-94 caused a series of closures. The replacement of the Larpenteur-Hennepin bridge and ramps meant that ramps were used as the main roadway, and street access to the ramps was blocked for much of the summer.

The entire project, financed largely by a federal grant, cost an estimated $10.7 million, according to MnDOT engineer Eric Rustad. He said MnDOT spent the whole grant, beating a July deadline to start all work.

Ramsey County paid for traffic signals and cities paid for street lights on bridges, Rustad noted. Detours were worked out with Hennepin and Ramsey counties and monitored by city staff. Rustad said St. Paul city staff “has been out to this project multiple times to adjust the light at Como and Eustis to help traffic.”

He said a stop sign at Como and the southbound ramp “strained the traffic in this area” but was needed for safety as cars turned left from the ramp onto Como.

Meanwhile, BNSF was driving pilings and digging out pieces of the existing railroad bridge over Raymond, with crews stopping for trains to pass. The project’s final phase began after the State Fair, with Raymond closed and the intersection with Blake blocked by construction equipment.

The four-month street closure originally proposed by the railroad was cut approximately in half after the St. Anthony Park Community Council, St. Paul City Council Member Russ Stark and other officials negotiated a revised schedule with BNSF.

“This could have been a lot worse if the city hadn’t leaned on the railroad, with encouragement from this neighborhood,” said Community Council Executive Director Amy Sparks.

Bike and pedestrian passage under the bridge was closed in late September during work hours because of safety concerns. The railroad offered a shuttle for pedestrians, and bikes were encouraged to use the U of M transitway. Motor vehicles could either take their chances with the single open lane on 280 or use the official detour over to Snelling.

As of late September, motorists taking 280 northbound would find the ramp closed at Como for MnDOT’s other 280 project for the year, which included construction of a storm sewer east of the highway.

The interchange at Broadway is also being redone, allowing for a city of Roseville sewer project and reconfiguring the interchange so that there will no longer be a left turn from eastbound Broadway onto northbound 280.

Work is expected to wrap up there in mid-November. Storm sewer work at Eustis, the Broadway reconstruction and repaving of the Paper Cal frontage road will cost an estimated $2.2 million in federal and state funds.

And Como Avenue, even as it served multiple detour functions, didn’t escape the diggers. It was narrowed between Snelling and Gibbs from May to mid-August, as Metropolitan Council Environmental Services replaced a century-old sanitary sewer pipe by slipping the new one inside the old one, which meant they could avoid extensive excavation on that stretch. This project cost approximately $2,000,000, which came from the Met Council’s regional sewer fund. All sewer users pay into that fund; in St. Paul, it’s part of every homeowner’s quarterly water and sewer services bill.

And along Como from Scudder to Carter, sidewalks disappeared at intersections as the city carried out the Raymond-Knapp RSVP project, a general upgrade to all the residential streets bounded by Carter, Como and Cleveland. A walk through the neighborhood meant muddy street-crossings and hops across ditches. Neighbors on nearby streets reported parking disruptions, and puzzled drivers ventured down streets “closed to through traffic” hoping not to find a pile of dirt blocking their path.

The RSVP project came in at just over $1,348,000, paid for by the city of St. Paul.

City Engineer Paul St. Martin said there was one more project that originally had been planned for the neighborhood in 2009: a bike lane on Como from Raymond to the west city limits, along with some curb bump-outs to ease pedestrian crossings. But the project had to be approved by MnDOT, which St. Martin said was “tied up with federal stimulus projects.”

He continued, “With the delay in MnDOT approval plus all the other construction work in St. Anthony Park in 2009, we have moved the project to 2010.”