County Manager Column from Feb. 16, 2021

Despite the frigid weather we’ve been experiencing, planning is well underway for warmer days filled with sunshine, leaf-covered trees and traffic cones. Earlier today the board of commissioners adopted the 2021-2025 Public Works Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) and approved the list of transportation projects Ramsey County will lead or support this year.

The TIP charts out $1.1 billion of investment planned over the next five years in our Public Works infrastructure, including $892 million for transitway projects – the Rush LineRiverview Corridor and Gold Line – and $215 million for ever-growing network of roads, bridges and sidewalks.

Last week, Public Works staff reviewed the TIP and this year’s projects during a board workshop. About $30 million will be spent this year on several road construction and maintenance projects [link pending], a noticeable decline from the past several years. While the construction industry was able to continue their work in a relatively normal way last year – and actually benefited from reduced traffic volumes– we’re seeing a budget impact now. Public Works has had to rescope, delay or remove several projects in order to absorb a roughly 10% reduction in state roadway funding tied to gas tax, motor vehicle sales tax and license tab fee revenues, all of which declined in 2020. Thanks to our Public Works team for their adjustments and problem solving to ensure we’re still addressing critical safety and infrastructure needs.

This year’s major projects include:

  • Reconstructing Cleveland Avenue between Como and Larpenteur avenues in Saint Paul and Falcon Heights. The road layout will also be modified to include one driving lane in each direction, one bike lane in each direction and a multi-use path on the east side of the road to improve safety for all users.
  • Resurfacing County Road B2 between Fairview and Hamline avenues in Roseville, which will also include updates to the traffic signals along this busy stretch of road near Rosedale Mall.
  • Resurfacing McKnight Road between Burns and Minnehaha avenues in Saint Paul and Maplewood.
  • Completing the final phase of Dale Street reconstruction between Iglehart and Concordia avenues in Saint Paul following last year’s work to rebuild and widen the bridge over I-94, making it safer and more efficient. Our work on the Dale Street project has been about so much more than a bridge – it’s been an opportunity to reconnect and honor the vibrant Rondo community that was harshly divided by the construction of I-94. The public art that defines the look of the new bridge is the result of several years of community engagement, from the steel oak silhouettes to the multi-lingual “We are Rondo” motif that lines the bridge. I look forward to joining the Rondo community and Public Works to celebrate the completion of this project once we can safely gather.

 

4-to-3 lane conversion on Maryland Avenue
4-to-3 lane conversion on Maryland Avenue

 

Public Works also shared an update last week about the findings of the 4-to-3 lane conversion study that is a huge step forward in our work of building an All-Abilities Transportation Network. Over the past few years, we’ve done one-off studies and lane conversions on sections of Maryland AvenueLarpenteur Avenue and McKnight Road but haven’t evaluated the system as a whole. This study moved beyond one-offs to take a comprehensive look at all undivided four-lane county roads for conversion opportunities.

Often referred to as “road diets,” studies have shown that reducing the number of lanes on undivided roads can prioritize the most vulnerable users of our transportation system by reducing vehicle speed, creating safer street crossings and improving the flow of people and vehicles.

Nineteen county roads were evaluated from both an engineering standpoint – width, curbside use and traffic volumes – and potential safety benefits – speed reduction, access points, crash reduction and pedestrian and bicycle use – to develop a final list of candidates. I’m excited that we can now begin to chart an implementation plan that prioritizes racial equity, community engagement and feasibility to continue shaping a transportation system that’s safe and efficient for everyone.

It was also exciting to have the Minnesota County Engineers Association present Ramsey County with two awards at this morning’s board meeting – the 2020 Highway Safety Achievement Award for the 4-to 3-lane conversion study and 2020 Project of the Year for the multi-year I-694/Rice Street interchange project. Kudos to our Public Works team on these well-deserved awards and for all you do – from culvert replacements to bridge construction – to maintain and improve our infrastructure.