Chunk of West River Road closed indefinitely as mudslide fix studied

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August 11, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
Park Board Assistant Superintendent Justin Long speaks with media about the West River Road closure
Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
Trail users frustrated as engineers work toward solution on complicated slope reconstruction

On June 28 heavy rain caused a mudslide next to Fairview Riverside Hospital so powerful the cascading debris blasted across West River Road with enough force to send the walking path’s railing tumbling toward the river below.

Since then the debris has been cleared off of the road and a protective tarp placed over the exposed soil to help stabilize the slope, but Park Board engineers say until a permanent solution is finalized a mile-long section of West River Road will remain closed to cars, bikes and pedestrians.

“This is a very complicated and steep area,” said Justin Long, the Park Board’s assistant superintendent of environmental stewardship. “There’s loose materials at the top of this that we can’t guarantee won’t come crashing down in the event of another storm.”

Still, walkers and bikers are frequently spotted hiking around the Park Board’s barricade to avoid the steep detour around the road’s closure between 4th Street and Franklin Avenue. Park Board spokesperson Robin Smothers said crews have had to repair and reinforce the barricade several times after it was cut open with bolt cutters.

“We completely understand it’s a huge inconvenience for people, and we have been working as fast as we can to come up with a solution,” said Smothers. “But honestly, who bikes with bolt cutters?”

Even with the protective tarp, every time it rains soil piles up against the concrete barriers at the bottom of the slope. Park Board crews continually remove the soil to prevent it from spilling back onto the roadway.

Long said the quickest possible timeline for reopening West River Road would see slope reconstruction begin in the fall and the parkway reopen by next spring. The Park Board is working with three different engineering firms, Fairview Riverside staff and the Met Council, which owns a tunnel running underneath the slope, to come up with a solution that satisfies all parties involved.

The Park Board's barricade is routinely disregarded by bikers and walkers -- photo by Ben Johnson

Perhaps the most important agency involved in the project is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has not determined if it will reimburse the Park Board for the project’s estimated $4 million cost. Fairview has paid to shore up damages to its property, but the slope is Park Board property, so it will be footing the bill until FEMA decides if the project qualifies for disaster aid.

The slope’s reconstruction will likely occur at the same time the Park Board begins its $2.2 million repaving of the West River Road biking and walking paths from Franklin Avenue up to Plymouth Avenue. Deb Bartels, the Park Board’s project manager for the repaving effort, said work will begin Sept. 1 at Franklin and progress north. The trail is scheduled to be completely repaved by next spring.

Next spring Hennepin County will begin a two-year project to replace and widen the Franklin Avenue Bridge’s deck. A bike lane with a concrete barrier will be added in each direction next to an expanded walking path. That project will close the bridge for about four months over its two-year timeline.

Ben Johnson // 612-436-5088 // bjohnson@journalmpls.com // @johnsonbend