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Archive | May, 2011

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Barricades and blocked streets hurting businesses

Posted on 26 May 2011 by robwas66

Central Corridor construction proceeding ahead of schedule

By JANE MCCLURE

Central Corridor construction is proceeding ahead of schedule, but that hasn’t meant that all is going smoothly, especially east of Hamline Avenue. Concrete barricades, dug-up streets and blocked sidewalks are hurting businesses and angering residents. One of the biggest complaints is how north-south intersections are being rebuilt and how traffic is rerouted. In some cases traffic tieups have had cars backed up over Interstate 94.

In late June tempers flared as Ngon Bistro owner Hai Truong accused construction workers of sitting on the sidewalk by his restaurant and eating lunch, blocking pedestrian traffic with their legs. Truong said that was retaliation for his raising concerns about construction workers parking in the neighborhood. He received an apology and visit from Central Corridor project staff and a representative of Walsh Construction. But the issue highlights one of the many challenges in balancing a major project with neighborhood needs.

One of the biggest issues this season has been access across University, especially in the Frogtown and Summit University areas. “The message we’re hearing is that it’s just too hard to get across University Avenue,’ said Ward One Council Member Melvin Carter III. He has been caught in the traffic tie-ups. “It’s crazy.”

Much of the concern has been at the Western and Victoria intersections, which have been the focus of reconstruction efforts. Central Corridor project, St. Paul Public Works and Walsh staff have been meeting with businesses to work out details on detours, as well as business directional signage and temporary access. Still, some business owners say their income is down by 50 percent or more.

During construction last year on University Avenue’s west section, most cross-streets were blocked. Major cross-streets were rebuilt one half at a time, causing long traffic tie-ups and detoured traffic. This year, crews initially opted for short-term closures of major north-south streets, over a period of a few weeks. While Lexington and Dale stayed partially open during construction, the south sides of Hamline and Victoria were closed and rebuilt. Hamline traffic was detoured through Midway Marketplace; Victoria vehicles used Avon Street.

But the Western area was more problematic. Traffic problems generated many complaints, to the point that work stopped in May so that community members could be asked for input.

“As they say, the devil is in the details,” said City Engineer John Maczko. While most streets can be rebuilt half at a time, Western and Victoria are only 40 feet wide. Some residents and business owners have asked for those streets to stay partially open. Keeping two-way traffic during construction, even a single lane in each direction, isn’t possible.

Some business owners said they want work done on major intersections as quickly as possible and could live with a shorter-term full street closing. Business owners want detours to be clearly communicated and work to be done quickly. Mai Village owner Mai Nguyen said her family’s restaurant at University and Western has lost more than $20,000 since construction began this spring. Customers get caught in traffic tie-ups and don’t come back.

“We cannot survive if it continues like this,” she said. “It was bad last year and it’s even worse this year. We have people who tell us it takes them an hour to get here.”

Residents in neighborhoods north and south of University are unhappy about motorists speeding down their streets, endangering children and side-swiping parked vehicles. They are also upset about late-night construction noise. Pedestrians have to navigate through muddy areas to get across and then evade speeding traffic.

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