County, U to see ramp revamp in next 10 years

The project will replace 7,000 pedestrian ramps and cost $7 million.

Kathryn Elliott

Hennepin County plans to replace 7,000 of its pedestrian ramps on street corners over the next decade, including some near the University of Minnesota campus.

At $1,000 per ramp, the project will cost $7 million. Hennepin County has access to an initial $1 million in federal funds, but to stay on schedule the county must come up with another $1 million each year, likely through reallocations.

The areas for pedestrian ramp replacement include Fourth Street, University Avenue and Washington Avenue.

Although each intersection must be evaluated for its unique conditions, the ideal renovation would place curb ramps with a shallower slope on both sides of a corner to give people in wheelchairs and others with disabilities the option of which way to cross.

County Transportation Department Director Jim Grube plans to reallocate funds within his departmentâÄôs operating and capital budgets for the long-range overhaul because, he said, itâÄôs the responsible thing to do.

Grube pitched a seven- to 10-year plan to the county Board of Commissioners earlier this month. He plans to hold several open houses to get community feedback before it gets final approval from the board.

Parts of the county with the most traffic are likely to get new ramps first, Grube said, which puts the Dinkytown area in the “earlier rather than later” end of the project. Still, the first geographic area Grube has targeted is North Minneapolis, both to get one area of the city done and so construction crews are “pros” by the time they reach the more densely populated areas.

As for Stadium Village, although Washington Avenue Southeast falls within the county boundaries, Grube said upcoming light rail-related construction on the bridge means heâÄôll delay any ramp replacements there “until it settles.”

The county will find ways to notify the community if its ramps will be under construction soon, but each ramp will only take a day or two to replace.

Last year, the federal government approved revised standards for accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation meant to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities.

Since 2003, standards for pedestrian ramps have required a “tactile warning” âÄî raised bumps on the rampâÄôs surface âÄî for people who are blind or use wheelchairs.

Kristie Billiar, ADA Implementation Coordinator for Minnesota Department of Transportation, explained some of the design possibilities for new ramps.

MnDOT developed an ADA transition plan in 2010 in response to increased complaints. One facet of the plan involves curb ramps. A prominent consideration in replacing the ramps is using hardy materials that can stand up to Minnesota winters.

Some of the old ramps were made using a “cast-in-place” technique for which truncated domes, the “bumps” on a tactile warning, were imprinted directly onto the cement, leaving them vulnerable to snow plows.

Now, the material of choice is cast iron in order to maximize the durability of the ramps, Billiar said.

“ItâÄôs not easy,” Grube said of the project. “But itâÄôs the right thing to do.”