So long, Plank Road: Concrete to replace trouble-ridden surface

Share this:
August 17, 2009 // UPDATED 8:52 am - August 17, 2009
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is expected to replace the troubled wood-beam stretch of West River Road behind the Mill City Museum.

Plank Road, as it’s commonly called, stretches from about Portland Avenue to the museum’s entrance. It’s only six years old — the Park Board had it constructed in 2003 as part of the Mill Ruins Park development. Commissioners who sat on the board then said the decision to put in wood beams was made to fit the street in with the character of its historic surroundings.

That move has proved troublesome.

Planning Director Judd Rietkerk said there were few problems during the first couple of years of Plank Road’s existence, but once things went awry, they went awry fast. Vibrations from traffic have caused the wood to shift and bolts to regularly jut out, sometimes by inches.

Corky Wiseman, River District Manager, said that in the early years maintenance was requested on Plank Road just once or twice. This year, however, maintenance staff has been out there three or four times already.

“The bolts just won’t hold,” Wiseman said.

Over the past five years, 13 accidents have been reported on Plank Road, an “unusually high” number for a city street, according to a parks staff report.

An Aug. 5 Park Board meeting allowed some citizen input, and about half a dozen nearby residents came to request action. Mary Marsden, of North Star Lofts, said Plank Road needed to be closed as soon as possible and not open until a change has been made. Alex Hoag, a resident of Stone Arch Lofts, is concerned about even walking on the wood beams.

“My grandchildren have gotten slivers in their feet because the road is so bad,” Hoag said.

Dick Gillespie called himself a heavy sleeper, but the road’s vibrations have challenged him.

“The noise is brutal,” Gillespie said. “I can tell when Twins games end because it’s so loud.”

Commissioner Annie Young, who was on the board when Plank Road was approved, said this was a case of architecture falling victim to the need for efficiency. She said the board chose a short-term fix without taking into account a long-term reality.

“This is one of those mistakes where we have to bite it and eat it,” Young said.

Staff gave the board several options, including closing Plank Road to through traffic. That suggestion didn’t sit well with Commissioner Scott Vreeland, in whose district the road is located. He said there’s something to be said for having a street that stretches up and down the Mississippi River, and for a small stretch of West River Parkway to become non-accessible “just doesn’t make me feel happy,” Vreeland said.

The Park Board’s planning committee recommended closing the road as soon as possible until further notice, while staff has been directed to create cost estimates, find funding sources and plot out a timeline for replacing it with a concrete surface. An early estimate put the cost of replacement at about $435,000.