University braces for autumnal onslaught of student vehicles

The collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge has affected city transit planning.

Mike Rose

Minnesota has long been known for having two seasons: winter and construction. This summer has been no different as campus has experienced closed parking ramps, rerouted roads and the beginning of campus stadium construction.

With Labor Day weekend – and tens of thousands of students – fast approaching, transportation on campus in the fall could prove to be challenging.

Mary Sienko, University Parking and Transportation marketing manager, said she expects campus to be congested when classes start again due to decreased parking space.

The loss of the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex removed a significant amount of parking from campus. Though lot 33 near Mariucci Arena has been built and the adjacent lot 37 has been expanded, Sienko said parking will still be tight.

Brian Swanson, the stadium project coordinator, said all blocked roads should be open by Aug. 17.

Swanson said this work should be done before the State Fair opens Aug. 23 to help accommodate fairgoers who park on campus. Also, he expected traffic lights to be properly aligned and functioning by then.

While road work comes to a conclusion, Swanson said miscellaneous work on sidewalks and landscape will continue, but the main focus will become construction of the actual stadium.

In the Southeast Como neighborhood, traffic flow has increased on the recently reopened Como Avenue, James DeSota, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said.

He said congestion has not been an issue on Como Avenue, although nearby 18th and Hennepin Avenues have been busier lately, with many commuters weaving their way onto Interstate 35W by way of Hennepin Avenue or Stinson Boulevard.

DeSota expressed some frustration with having the Como Avenue construction project delayed.

“This way, we’ll have a fourth year of construction,” he said.

The road is open indefinitely to help compensate for the loss of the 35W bridge, with construction work being postponed until after the road is blocked off again.

Light-rail update

The Central Corridor project has been discussed and debated all summer. In the fall, University students will get their turn to offer input.

Jessica Hill, a University graduate, is the community outreach representative for campus, in charge of coordinating light-rail efforts for the University.

Hill will be at the 13th Annual Parking and Transportation Fair on Sept. 4. The event, which is sponsored by PTS and Metro Transit, among others, will be held at the Coffman Union plaza. On Sept. 5, the event will shift to the St. Paul Student Center.

Planners are considering a tunnel, which would go under Washington Avenue after crossing the Washington Avenue Bridge and then surface again at University Avenue.

on the web

For more information, go to: www.centralcorridor.org or contact Jessica Hill at 651-602-1840 or [email protected]

Some, like University Graduate and Professional Student Assembly member Kristen Denzer, have said a tunnel would be the safest and smartest way to go through campus.

Denzer, who is on the Central Corridor Community Advisory Committee of the Metropolitan Council, said the topic hasn’t come up much during meetings. but she expects more discussion to come this fall.

“No one from Met Council has discussed the (pros and cons) of the tunnel,” she said. “It needs to be explained.”

Denzer said she is worried that if the tunnel is not explained it might be one of the first things cut from a project that is currently over budget.

The estimated cost of the project is $930 million, said Laura Baenen, communications manager for the project. This cost would have to be trimmed by $100 million to $200 million to qualify for federal funds. She added that federal funding would pay for half the project, so receiving the funding is very important.

Also being discussed is the location at which the light rail would cross the Mississippi River.

Initially, plans were designed for the Central Corridor to run along the Washington Avenue Bridge. However, that bridge’s stability and the rebuilding of the 35W bridge has created some debate over where the light rail will go.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has supported the idea of having the route go down University Avenue through Dinkytown and then onto the new 35W bridge.

He said this route would save the city hundreds of millions of dollars and prevent congestion in front of Coffman Union.

“We need to (decide and rebuild) fast, but I think it’s most important we do it right,” Rybak said.

Opposition has come from Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau and Peter Bell, chairman of the Metropolitan Council.

In a letter written to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, they said moving the Central Corridor to the new 35W bridge would cause delays in the construction of the new bridge.

They also said the cost of properly renovating the Washington Avenue Bridge and using it for the route would be less than any plan for the route to use 35W.

Bell and Molnau added that ridership would likely decrease if the route was altered.

Denzer agreed with Molnau and Bell, saying that the University community will represent a large share of Central Corridor ridership and the 35W proposal doesn’t make sense.

Wherever citizens stand, Hill said it is important people contact her or other community outreach representatives soon. She said comments about the route are sent directly to the engineers.

Baenen added that people often wait to comment until after something starts, when comments are less useful.

Justin Horwath contributed to this report.