Brace yourselves: High Bridge to close Sept. 5

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(photo by jpellgen via Creative Commons)

It’s really happening – the High Bridge will officially close for construction in just a few weeks. Starting September 5 the bridge will shut down for 16 months so the deck can be rebuilt and reconfigured. In addition to being safe for continued automobile traffic, the new bridge will feature bike lanes and protected sidewalks.

The official detours will route northbound traffic to downtown via Robert Street, and southbound traffic to Interstate 35E and Highway 13. The section of Wabasha between Fillmore and Plato (just south of the bridge) is still closed and is not scheduled to be completed until October, but if you’re on foot or bike that’s still your best bet to get downtown (the Wabasha bridge itself is still open and can be accessed via Water Street).

This obviously will be an inconvenience, but given the scale of the project it’s not exactly apocalyptic. Google Maps estimates a trip from the Capital View Cafe to Bad Weather Brewing is about 3 minutes by car over the High Bridge. Routing through downtown via Robert Street turns that into a 14 minute trip, and when the Wabasha bridge reopens it goes down to 11 minutes.

If you’re going from the West Side to, say, Grand and Victoria, you go from a 7 minute trip with the bridge to 13 minutes via 35E (those times will obviously vary based on traffic conditions).

The project will also involve short-term closures of Shepherd and Lilydale roads along with the dog park and adjacent trails, details are on the project page.

MnDOT is holding two open houses this month to talk about the construction schedule and local impacts. The first will be Wednesday, August 16 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Capital View Cafe, the second will be Tuesday, August 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Bad Weather Brewing.

The work is currently scheduled to be completed in December 2018.

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Open house planned for August 10 for Smith / Dodd intersection

A concept of what future redevelopment in the Smith/Dodd area could look like with realigned streets.

As discussed in an earlier post, an advisory committee (including yours truly) has been meeting over the spring/summer to discuss possible future realignment of the Smith/Dodd intersection. This group consists of residents, business owners and other stakeholders.

The group has narrowed down the options to three basic concepts, and the city is planning to host an open house on August 10 from 5-7 p.m. at Doddway shopping center, in the former salon space next to Snap Fitness.

Keeping in mind the existing Smith Avenue redevelopment plan along with other existing city plans, the group has been working alongside design consultants to balance a number of priorities, including the following:

  • Improving walkability and overall safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists
  • Calming traffic to create a more welcoming environment
  • Improving visibility and access to businesses and preserving parking
  • Preserving existing park space and creating new opportunities for open space

At present there are three basic designs moving forward (this attachment, which was distributed to the city council, includes four but Option 1 has been eliminated at this point for a number of obvious reasons). Please bear in mind that these are just concepts and are not final plans.

Option 2 prioritizes car traffic moving along Highway 149:

Option 3 is the much-rumored roundabout:

And Option 4 is an idea introduced by members of the group that centers around Smith Avenue:

There is currently no estimate of what any of these options would cost because – once again – these are only design concepts and not plans. City staff have ballparked the entire project in the $2-$3 million range, depending on right-of-way acquisitions and other costs. The city already owns the former repair shop property on the southwest corner of the intersection. Also any recaptured land will likely be turned into commercial property or public open space.

Another important caveat – this realignment will not be part of the upcoming MnDOT reconstruction of Highway 149. This is a separate city project that is currently not funded, and there is no firm timetable for construction. Under the MnDOT project there will be no improvement to the intersection beyond bringing sidewalks and ramps into basic ADA compliance.

So! If you want to see a safer, walkable and more vibrant Smith Avenue, now is the time to speak up. Having a preference of one design over another is useful information, but be sure to tell your city council representatives what you want to see prioritized as the project moves forward.

UPDATE: since this question has come up in some Facebook comments, here are traffic counts in the area (2015 MnDOT data)

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Re-envisioning the Smith/Dodd intersection

This year, the city is convening an advisory committee to discuss options for realigning the Smith/Dodd intersection – a confusing knot of three arterial streets and multiple curb cuts and driveways.

The process is looking not just at the intersection but surrounding land use and zoning, and helping to envision what the area will look like long term. The group is incorporating recommendations from the 2010 Smith Avenue Revitalization Plan (three of the former task force members are also on the current committee).

Most visibly, the process will make recommendations for the city-owned 1010 Dodd property, the former auto repair shop on the southwest corner of Smith and Dodd. It may be absorbed into the street grid or redeveloped as commercial or park space.

Here, briefly, is more information about the process:

What’s wrong with the intersection as it is?

The two main problems are that it can be confusing and difficult to access businesses and that the intersection is particularly dangerous for pedestrians. It’s all subjective, but most people I’ve talked to who walk in the area say they’ll jaywalk midblock rather than take their chances at the crosswalk, where drivers often make turns on red lights at high speed.

Who’s on the committee?

The group includes some area residents, representatives from businesses including the Doddway shopping center, Zak’s Auto Repair, Camelot Cleaners, the Cherokee Tavern and Amore Coffee, and Ward 3 council member John Bellows and planning commission chair Morgan Kavanaugh.

I’ve heard there’s going to be a roundabout. Will there be a roundabout?

Possibly – that’s only one of the design options under consideration. A recent meeting explored the idea of dramatically remodeling Doddway and replatting the streets entirely – something that probably won’t happen because it would be considerably expensive. It’s also possible the intersection won’t be changed at all.

The process is not to choose between roundabout and not-roundabout, it’s to help city staff and engineers understand what the community regards as most important. That includes safety, preserving parks/open space and existing businesses, access to businesses, etc. So the end result will (hopefully) be a design that incorporates all of those concerns.

What about Albert Park or the Scott Patrick memorial?

Some design concepts relocate Albert Park while others keep it in its existing location. All of them include public/open space that could be used for a memorial for Officer Patrick.

When can we expect to see some changes?

Years from now, if ever. The project depends on unidentified future funding, and will likely be in the range of $1 million-$3 million.

But isn’t MnDOT about to redo the whole road?

Yes, and while they’re making improvements to intersections in St. Paul and Mendota Heights, Smith/Dodd will only see sidewalks and ramps brought up to basic ADA compliance. City staff are still pushing MnDOT to see if any incremental improvements can be made at Smith/Dodd as part of this project but no luck so far.

How can I get involved?

There will be a series of open houses, most likely in August, and recommendations are expected to go to the city council in November. You can always submit comments to your city council representative.

Update to the update on Smith Avenue construction

The city of St. Paul will continue to do water line replacements along Smith Avenue in the coming weeks. Once again this is not the impending High Bridge closure, which isn’t happening until fall.

Starting April 17th Smith will be closed from George to Cherokee, with official detours to side streets thusly:

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The work is expected to last five days.

Crews will continue working their way up Smith with detours to side streets as appropriate (exact detour routes haven’t been worked out yet).

Update on Smith Avenue construction

By now you’ve probably noticed the road closure signs on the High Bridge. Fear not! The bridge is not closing early. Here is a statement from the city of St. Paul.

The city is closing a short section of Smith Avenue on the north end of the High Bridge as part of a lead replacement project. The bridge itself will not be closed. Smith Avenue will be closed from McBoal  Street to Cliff Street (two blocks) starting Monday, April 10 through April 17. Restoration will follow and the work should be finished by Wednesday, April 19.

There will be a short traffic detour from Smith Avenue using Cliff Street, St. Clair Avenue and West 7th Street. Here is a link to the city’s road closures map and list: https://www.stpaul.gov/residents/road-closures.

Once work is complete on the north end of the bridge, the city will move to the south side. They will be working in the area for a couple of months, most likely.

If you need further details, please contact Jodi Wallin with the city of St. Paul: jodi.wallin@ci.stpaul.mn.us.

Note that this is a city project, not MnDOT. Not clear yet if the work on the south side of the bridge will involve street closure but hope to have an update soon.

The closure of the High Bridge is still scheduled for later this fall.

West Side photographer opens ‘What We Hide’ show on Smith Avenue

"Leah," one of the photos in Ellie Leonardsmith's "What We Hide" series.

“Leah,” one of the photos in Ellie Leonardsmith’s “What We Hide” series.

(from a news release)

Photographer Ellie Leonardsmith has been making photographic portraits for her project, “What We Hide,” for the last year and a half. She will release the photos Saturday, January 28 at 4:30 p.m. at Block Studios, on St. Paul’s West Side, and have the collection’s book available for sale. The project aims to shed light on the struggles we all share, but which are often not discussed or allowed.

“Participants were invited to drop the posing and presentation that come with the typical portrait, and instead to allow what is often there- but usually hidden- to come to the surface,” said artist Ellie Leonardsmith. “We are confronted every day by a society that tells us to be young, fertile, stable, thin, rich, white, and able to move through the world without needing help. These standards are simply unattainable. In undertaking this project, I am stepping up to lessen their power, and to share my understanding of our humanity.”

Ellie Leonardsmith

Ellie Leonardsmith

Participants in the project will be speaking at 4:30pm, with refreshments provided afterward. The event is free and open to all ages, though it is a gallery showing and some discussion of sensitive subjects may occur. Images and information about the event can be viewed at www.whatwehide.com.

“She may be the least manipulative photographer I’ve ever encountered. She has an rare ability to be with her subjects while taking their pictures,” said Marisha Chamberlain, a local Schmidt artist who wrote a forward in Leonardsmith’s book.  “Her theory that great beauty and fresh truth would be found by asking her subjects to show what they’ve usually hidden is proven true, page after page. In the unexpected frankness in her compositions, awkwardness, uncertainty or a sense of incompleteness are revealed as harmony. She’s achieved in image what the poet, John Keats has proposed in words, that “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty.”

RSVP via Facebook here.

About Ellie Leonardsmith Photography

Ellie Leonardsmith Photography has been in business for ten years, originating in New York, then Boston, and now on the West Side of Saint Paul for the last four years. Leonardsmith focuses on portraits but has also donated her time to event photography for local organizations such as the West Side Citizens Organization (WSCO) and Art on the Ave.  To learn more visit http://www.ellieleonardsmith.com, or call (612) 460-5524.

Open house on Feb. 7 for new High Bridge design

Below is a news release from MnDOT:

ROSEVILLE, Minn. – The public is invited to provide input on aesthetic design options associated with the Smith Avenue High Bridge deck in St. Paul at a community gathering scheduled for Feb. 7.

The open house will be held from 5 – 7 p.m. in the community room at Bad Weather Brewery, 414 West Seventh Street in St. Paul.

The focus of the open house will be on the Smith Avenue High Bridge deck aesthetics. Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and project staff will be on hand to answer questions and gather input.

The deck of the Smith Avenue High Bridge will be reconstructed as part of a larger project on Smith Avenue and Dodd Road, also known as Highway 149. Construction on the bridge deck will begin in fall 2017. Additional work on the larger project includes:

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

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 year.

Please visit the project website for upcoming event dates and times, in addition to project updates, at 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.