Meet the candidates for West St. Paul city government

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As entertaining (?) as the presidential campaign can be, let’s not forget that local elections are important too.

Here is a link to last night’s candidate forum for West St. Paul. Remember that Smith Avenue and Dodd Road are scheduled for reconstruction by MnDOT in 2018, but any improvements/upgrades not directly related to the roadway or bringing sidewalks to basic ADA compliance will be up to the city. The Smith/Dodd corridor is in Ward 3, John Ramsay and Dave Napier are the candidates for that seat. Jenny Halverson is challenging David Meisinger for mayor.

To briefly recap the responses, Napier supports implementation of the city’s bike/pedestrian plan, Ramsay says because he and his immediate family seem to have no trouble getting around, he sees no reason to change the status quo.

Because of the timeframe for this project, this election could have implications for our neighborhood for decades to come. The choice is pretty clear, depending on whether you want to see changes or if you like things the way they are.

Please research the candidates carefully and choose wisely.

Preferred High Bridge redesign includes protected sidewalks, calmer traffic

A design concept for the High Bridge includes a protected sidewalk, similar to the one on the Wabasha bridge.

A design concept for the High Bridge includes a protected sidewalk, similar to the one on the Wabasha bridge.

If current plans move forward, the new High Bridge will feature calmer car traffic, bike lanes, and a separated sidewalk after reconstruction in 2018.

Members of the MnDOT community advisory committee were presented with two concepts at a meeting last night with project manager Tara McBride. One concept keeps basically the existing design but with wider sidewalks, and another has a barrier-protected sidewalk similar to the Wabasha bridge. The group unanimously endorsed the latter.

The current bridge has 12-foot-wide car lanes, an 8-foot shoulder that is used as a bike lane but not officially designated as such, and a 6-foot sidewalk. The new design would feature car lanes that are 10-11 feet, bike lanes that are 5.5-6.5 feet, and an 8-foot-wide sidewalk.

For context, 12 feet is a fairly standard lane width, including on freeways. The narrower lane widths are not uncommon on city streets, and even some sections of I-94 have 11-foot lanes. Plans call for lowering the speed limit to 30 mph, which will have a negligible impact on driving times as the bridge is only 1/2-mile long and has traffic signals near both ends, McBride noted.

It’s important to note that the design is not final, and still has a further review and approval process within MnDOT.

MnDOT engineers considered more than 20 different design concepts based on feedback from community workshops, but all but the final 2 had been rejected as not technically feasible or prohibitively expensive.

Some community members had suggested an asymmetrical layout, with car traffic on one side and a wider pedestrian boulevard on the other, but structurally the bridge couldn’t handle that type of load shift without millions of dollars in modifications. Other suggested features, such as bump-out viewing areas, would also add considerable cost.

Another important consideration was whether booms on inspection trucks could still extend over the side and underneath the bridge. That limits the position and height of barriers, however, the proposed concepts shouldn’t present an issue, McBride said.

A local suicide prevention group has pushed for railings to be made higher to prevent people from jumping off the bridge, that portion of the design is still in early stages but railings will likely be higher and more difficult to climb. Other issues such as lighting and design elements will depend largely on how much the city of St. Paul contributes to the project.

The design concept that’s moving forward represents a more balanced approach to serving the needs of everyone who uses the bridge, while keeping in mind cost and technical limitations. The MnDOT team has been very responsive to community feedback.

MnDOT staff will be on hand to answer questions at tonight’s bridge walk, which is organized by the Smith Bridge Community Health Forum. The group meets at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the top of the bridge (Smith & Cherokee).

Art on the Avenue is this Saturday!

art on the avenue map

Smith Avenue comes alive once again for Art on the Avenue, this Saturday, July 23 from 2:30-8 p.m.

Now in its fourth year, the event will include neighborhood, local and regional artists, live music, a puppet show, craft demonstrations and more. A few highlights include:

• Live performances at Capital View Park (top of the High Bridge) by the On-Time Circus puppet theater (2:30 p.m.) and the Twin Cities Youth Symphony (4 p.m.)
• An interactive exhibit at Block Studios, 676 Smith Ave.
• A bike scavenger hunt at Capital Deals, 710 Smith Ave. – registration at 7:30, ride starts at 8, click the event link for details
• The kids’ Color Dash fun run at Dodd Park, 7 p.m.
• Exhibits at Electric Machete studio (Smith & Curtice)
• Live performances by Autumn Irlbeck at Cherokee Park United Church, 371 Baker (4 & 6 p.m.)
• Beer tent from the 5-8 Club at Dodd Park.

Click the map above for a complete schedule.

This event was originally conceived as a way to unite the community, and bring neighbors out into the street to celebrate Smith Avenue as a vibrant space – so get out and stroll around, bring your bikes and strollers, and see the amazing work created by your neighbors and friends.

This event is made possible by the tireless work of neighborhood volunteers, the West Side Community Organization, the City of West St. Paul, as well as support from the Nomadic Press, the South Robert Street Business Association, the West St. Paul Commercial Club, and WSP Mayor David Meisinger.

We can’t wait to see you!

What to expect from the Smith Ave / High Bridge construction project

149 map

Tonight was the first meeting of the Community Advisory Committee for the High Bridge / Highway 149 construction project. Here’s a brief recap:

MnDOT is taking community concerns seriously. This type of community engagement is a relatively new process for MnDOT, an agency that admittedly is better at finding ways to move cars quickly than making a safe, inviting environment for residents. The project officials in attendance are very receptive to improving safety for cyclists, pedestrians, transit users, etc., and are coordinating with city governments (St. Paul, West St. Paul, and Mendota Heights) along the route. As one MnDOT staffer said, “it’s our roadway, but it’s your community.”

That said, don’t get your hopes too high. This is a “preservation” project — a mill and overlay, rather than a reconstruction, which means MnDOT is limited in changes in can make by existing rights of way, design standards, and so forth. For instance, the roadway won’t likely be widened through Mendota Heights to create wider shoulders, and the unique engineering of the High Bridge limits how it can be configured.

Some things that will change include replacement of all the sidewalks along Smith Avenue to make them ADA compliant. The project engineers will consider bump-outs or other traffic calming measures in some locations to make it safer to cross the street. The High Bridge roadway will be designed in a way to slow traffic rather than speed it up.

Also, a section of Annapolis (from Smith to Cherokee Heights Blvd) has been added to the project. That means sidewalks along this stretch will also be brought into compliance, and a sidewalk is expected to be added on the north side of Annapolis through Cherokee Park. The Annapolis work had been originally scheduled for 2020, MnDOT thought it made sense to just combine with the Smith/Dodd work.

Here’s what you can do to help. As mentioned previously, MnDOT has a limited budget for significant improvements, but will coordinate with cities to implement changes they want to make. Both St. Paul and West St. Paul have bike/pedestrian plans that include the area being constructed, and Mendota Heights is trying to find funding for a pedestrian path along Dodd Road. If you support increased pedestrian safety along the corridor, now would be a great time to contact your city council representative and let them know. Don’t wait until the barricades go up in 2018, get involved now.

Coming up: We’ll do a “site visit” to particularly troublesome spots along the corridor.

Sign up for the Smith Avenue/High Bridge community advisory committee

(MJI Photos / Creative Commons)

(MJI Photos / Creative Commons)

MnDOT is taking applications from community members for an advisory committee to provide input on the Highway 149 (Smith Ave/Dodd Road/High Bridge) reconstruction project.

This will be a transformative project for the neighborhood and will likely set the tone for development for years to come. This will also be an opportunity to discuss implementing the provisions in the Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan.

From the news release:

The Community Advisory Committee will advise the project management team on the final design of both the bridge and roadway components of the project. The committee is intended to include residents, businesses, property owners and organizations for the purpose of advising development of the project and representing the diversity of interests that can be found along the Highway 149 (Smith Avenue and Dodd Road) corridor. The diversity of interests desired for representation on the Community Advisory Committee include:

  • Residents (homeowners, renters)
  • Businesses operating within the project limits (a range of size and business type)
  • Major employers
  • Institutions and schools
  • Travelers along Smith Avenue and Dodd Road (existing transit users, bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers)
  • Other special interests

Meetings will be held on weeknights between March 2016 and October 2017 (there will be eight meetings total), locations are yet to be determined but will be along the Smith/Dodd corridor. The deadline to apply is Feb. 19, and selected applicants will be notified in early March.

To apply, download the application via this link.

Amore Coffee expanding, adding meeting room

This former barber shop will soon become part of Amore Coffee.

This former barber shop will soon become part of Amore Coffee.

Work has begun in earnest on a long-planned expansion of Amore Coffee into the space immediately to the south.

The 424 square foot expansion will include a conference room (available to rent for a fee or free with a minimum purchase) and art galley, as well as a second bathroom and overflow seating for busy days.

Mr. Dave’s Barber Shop, the former occupant of the space has moved to 797 Dodd Road (just north of Cherokee Service).

According to a Facebook post, the new conference space will be available for rent beginning March 1.

Final Smith Ave / Dodd Road workshop tonight

Workshop for Dodd Road project in Mendota Heights, West St. Paul set for Oct. 1

The public is invited to learn and provide input about future improvements to Dodd Road and Smith Avenue—Highway 149—in Mendota Heights, West St. Paul and St. Paul at a community workshop scheduled for Oct. 1.

The workshop will be held from 5 – 7 p.m. at Teresa’s Mexican Restaurant, 762 Dodd Road in Mendota Heights.

Workshop attendees will have the opportunity provide input about what biking, walking and driving improvements they would like to be considered as part of an upcoming project on the Dodd Road, Smith Avenue and the High Bridge.

The proposed project is scheduled for spring 2018 through fall 2018. Work includes:

  • Resurfacing Dodd Road and Smith Avenue—Highway 149—between I-494 in Mendota Heights and West 7th Street in St. Paul.
  • Constructing an additional left turn lane from westbound I-494 to southbound Dodd Road in Mendota Heights.
  • Replacing signals at five Highway 149 intersections.
  • Improving drainage, sidewalks and pedestrian accessibility.
  • Reconstructing the bridge deck of the Smith Avenue High Bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Paul.

The project will extend the lifespan of Highway 149 and the High Bridge, and provide a smoother road surface and improved ride for motorists.

This work is expected to result in the complete closure of the High Bridge for one construction season.

The Oct. 1 workshop is the third and final workshop scheduled for this project.

For more information on the project or to sign up for email updates, visit www.mndot.gov/metro/projects/hwy149highbridge.

To request an ASL or foreign language interpreter, call 651-366-4720. To request other reasonable accommodations, call 651-366-4718; the Minnesota Relay service toll-free at 1-800-627-3529) TTY, Voice or ASCII) or 711, or email your request to adarequest.dot@state.mn.us.