NE neighbors brace for Central Ave closure this summer

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April 17, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
The Central Ave. railroad bridge will be rebuilt this summer
Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
A bridge reconstruction project will close Central to through traffic for at least five months

LOGAN PARK – Starting May 19 – the day after Art-A-Whirl ends – a chunk of Central Avenue NE will be closed to through traffic until late fall due to a railroad bridge reconstruction project.

Businesses on Central within a mile-long stretch between Broadway Street and Lowry Avenue are stressing that the road will remain open to cars, bikes and pedestrians right up to the bridge.

“It’s like a cul-de-sac, essentially,” said Ward 1 City Council Member Kevin Reich. “People will still be able to access businesses near the bridge on either side, they will just have to exit the same way they came in.”

The bridge cuts diagonally across Central between 14th and 18th Avenue, and the $14 million project is being paid for by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

A panel of representatives from MnDOT, Metro Transit and the city of Minneapolis presented the final Central Avenue bridge reconstruction plan and fielded questions from concerned neighbors at the Logan Park community center on April 16.

The project will either be complete by November 15, or if not enough progress is made over the summer, Central will be partially reopened with one lane travelling in each direction on October 19, and the work will be completed the following spring.

Representatives from MnDOT said that they will know by mid-summer which track construction will take.

Vehicle, bus, bike and pedestrian detours

MnDOT’s official detour sends northbound vehicles travelling on Central east on Broadway over to Johnson Street, where cars will travel north until they can head back to Central on Lowry. Southbound traffic will be diverted west on Lowry over to University Avenue, and then back to Central on Broadway.

Image courtesy of MnDOT

Ron Rauchle, an engineer with MnDOT, acknowledged that the detour could be shorter, but MnDOT policy states that traffic from a major artery like Central needs to be detoured through roads that have similar capacity.

“We can’t detour onto city streets, we have to detour onto major roadways and so we picked the closest major roadways,” said Rauchle.

Rauchle added that statistics show roughly 60 percent of vehicles follow posted detour routes, 20 percent find a shortcut, and another 20 percent avoid the route altogether.

Some people raised concerns about increased traffic flowing through surrounding neighborhood streets from people taking shortcuts around the bridge. In response, city staff pledged to put up signage, including radar speed signs, in affected areas.

Bus routes on Central will shift over to Fillmore Street between Broadway to 18 ½ Avenue. There will be no stops on Fillmore, so after stopping at Spring Street and Central the next stop won’t be until 18½ and Central.

The pedestrian and biking detour travels west on 14th Ave., north past the Northrup King building and along railroad tracks until 18th Ave., where it heads back to Central. A temporary trail with fencing, lighting and new paving will be constructed to accommodate bikers and walkers.

Image courtesy of MnDOT

Businesses concerned

Diamonds Coffee Shoppe owner Lucy Bacon seemed resigned to decreased sales this summer due to the bridge reconstruction.

“Well I’m not happy, but it’s kind of inevitable, there’s nothing much I can do now,” said Bacon. Her coffee shop lies about 100 yards north of the bridge.

She added: “Most of our business is from people who live in the neighborhood, and I don’t think we’ll lose them, as long as they know they can still get to us. What we’ll lose is the drive-by traffic in the morning.”

Diamonds will probably cut hours this summer and may try to ramp up lunch delivery service to stay afloat during the construction.

Across the street from Diamonds, Josh Cragun from Nimbus Theatre said he would’ve preferred Central staying partially open for a two-year reconstruction schedule, which was an initial option presented by MnDOT.

He said he’s most concerned about patrons making it to shows on time rather than a significant drop in business, and that Nimbus is lucky because summer business is typically much slower than winter.

Cragun is part of the Central Avenue Closure Committee, a group of affected business owners that meets every other Wednesday at 7 p.m. to discuss ways to combat the project’s effect.

The committee is working with Council Member Reich’s office to apply for grants to get additional, specific signage letting people know businesses are still accessible and open.

When the new bridge is finished it will be 19 inches taller and the space underneath it will be 28 feet wider, with a bike lane and better sidewalks. The middle pier will be gone, but the dip in the road will remain to maintain clearance for street cars, if they eventually make it down Central.

According to Reich, neighborhood leaders chose the bridge’s traditional, classic design over a competing design that was flashier. However, there is a 41-foot-long strip on both sides of the bridge reserved for a future local art installation.

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