Six area projects are candidates for 2023 and 2024 Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) funding, which is cause for cautious optimism in Frogtown, Union Park, St. Anthony Park and Como neighborhoods. The CIB Committee finalized a list of nine total projects June 27 and sent them to Mayor Melvin Carter to meet a June 30 deadline.
Supporters of solar lights for Frogtown Park and Farm, safety improvements for the Como Lake trail, bike racks in 13 city parks, a flashing beacon at the north end of Ayd Mill Road, lighting on part of Raymond Avenue and traffic calming improvements on a stretch of Thomas Avenue in Frogtown will know in August if their projects are part of the 2023 city budget.
But it has been a difficult budget process. The $1 million allocated for neighborhood-scale projects doesn’t go very far when the 43 applicants and plus-$15 million in requests are considered. That leaves a lot of projects out, including every single project proposed in Hamline-Midway.
There’s also the review process itself. The CIB Committee, which was set up by the Minnesota Legislature in the 1960s, has 18 seats. It was set up to provide a community and citizen-driven process through which capital projects ae reviewed and funded. It allocates bonding proceeds, federal Community Development Block grants, Municipal State Aid and other funds for brick and mortar efforts.
Projects used to be reviewed and ranked every other year. Now, city departments come in with their requests one year, with community projects submitted the following year.
Fifteen seats are filled but only six members attended the June 27 meeting. The committee did have a quorum for its June 23 public hearing, but community members questioned the absences.
CIB and other city citizen boards, commissions and committees have struggled at times to reach quorums and do business. The COVID-19 pandemic allowed the groups to meet virtually but once the declared city emergency ended, in-person meetings were required again.
Lacking a quorum, the committee couldn’t do a formal vote on its recommendations it had reviewed for several months. The committee used its own ranking as well as district council and public rankings to make suggestions to Carter.
Almost three dozen people attended the June 23 committee hearing, most from Frogtown. Replacing damaged park lights with solar fixtures was the ask of many. Hamline-Midway Katie Taylor, one of the Frogtown park stewards, said lights were damaged in 2018 and not restored. Copper thieves are to blame. Without adequate lighting, the park feels unsafe.
Other spokes for traffic safety improvements on Thomas, in Frogtown and near Griggs Street in Hamline-Midway. Speeding vehicles on Thomas create hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists. Some speakers said they don’t let their children play out front because of the traffic hazards.
The committee began its deliberations June 27 with six projects including Lights On! Frogtown Park and Farm ($154,526), bike racks at 13 city parks including College, Ryan and Dickerman parks ($65,675), Como Lake path safety improvements ($104,715), and Raymond-Wabash Avenue street lighting ($30,000). The six recommended requests total $755,633, leaving $184,367 for the committee to allocate.
The committee added three projects for Carter’s consideration, including $75,000 for pedestrian and bicyclist safety beacon at the north end of Ayd Mill Road, and $89,000 for the 700-900 blocks area of Thomas Avenue in Frogtown.
Committee members looked at committee, district council and community members’ rankings before making additional picks. The Ayd Mill Road project was proposed by Lisa Nelson, a member of Union Park District Council’s Transportation Committee who also submitted the bike racks proposal. She suggested a flashing beacon where the Ayd Mill Road multi-use trail intersects with Selby Avenue. It got the highest amount of online votes through the city’s Engage St. Paul website.
“There’s strong support for that, and we should consider adding it,” CIB Committee member Jack Fei said.
Adding some funding for a Highland community gathering space and Thomas Avenue in Frogtown projects is based on community input at the June 23 hearing, said Fei.
The traffic safety issues continue to worry CIB committee members. Committee Chairman Darren Tobolt said that he’d like to see the city take strategic approaches to such problems. One idea the committee debated June 27 was whether or not to simply fund speed bumps in some places.
Several area projects are off the table unless the mayor and City Council add them back in. Those include Thomas-Griggs traffic safety, Wabash Avenue railroad track removal, wind fences for parks including Marydale and Horton Park improvements, Como Park kiosk and trail improvements, a flashing beacon lights near Midway Peace Park, reconfiguring the Selby Avenue-Saratoga Street intersection, adding sidewalks in the West Midway area.
The advocacy group Sustain St. Paul’s request for pedestrian safety improvements near several schools, libraries and recreation centers citywide was turned down. It included Jackson Elementary in Frogtown.
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