Suddenly neighborhoods have a freeway in the backyardby Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
The I-35W bridge collapse inflicted a heavy blow on the Twin Cities fragile highway system. Now the traffic volume of an 8-lane interstate will be pushed to smaller roads like Highway 280 and maybe to already congested side streets in neighborhoods nearby.
St. Paul, Minn. — Cromwell Avenue in St. Paul is a typical city street with small lots and cozy homes. This neighborhood is just north of University Avenue and tucked away east of Highway 280, a roadway that must now take on considerably more traffic.
Suddenly the backyard of Cromwell Avenue resident Greg Kline is about 15 feet from a converted freeway with only a wooden sound barrier between his property line and a lot more traffic.
"It's a lot noiser today than it was last week, you know, since this catastrophe happened there is no doubt you are going to notice it," Kline says. "But I don't even notice it right now... Unless it's this busy - and it's probably 50 percent more busy now."
Minnesota's Department of Transportation moved swiftly to make 280 into a working freeway; shutting down stop lights and closing access to the highway. Kline and other neighbors admit they are concerned about noise, about additional congestion, about dust kicking up over the wall. But they are accept that there is no choice.
Kline, whose company uses trucks for supplies, says in addition to using 280, the state should rescind truck restrictions on a portion I-35E that runs through St. Paul. It's one of the few other major north-south routes through the Twin Cities.
"With what's going on here, that is the natural, 280. Until they get a new bridge which could be a few years, I-35E is the only other option, when you think about it," Kline says.
The Minnesota Truckers Association has sent a formal request to Gov. Tim Pawlenty to allow all truck traffic to pass along the restricted portion of I-35E, but it's not as easy as it sounds. That segment was built in the late 1980s, after 15 years of litigation battles between MNDOT and residents of the Crocus Hill section of St. Paul. Neighbors battled hard against the freeway, worried about how the traffic would ruin their quality of life.
A compromise came that banned trucks over 9,000 pounds from that segment of freeway and limited speeds to 45 miles per hour. Truckers Association president John Hausladen said the governor should lift the restrictions.
"We think at a crisis like this it would be very helpful, at least on a temporary basis, to lift that (ban) and allow trucks and move them away from the affected area," Hausladen says.
For neighbors in the Summit Hill area, the situation is a careful balance. Elizabeth Wufel, president of the neighborhood assocation, says in the past, neighbors who live close to 35-E have seen attempts to relax the restrictions come and go - and fought the changes. This time, she says, neighbors are deeply concerned about the affects of the bridge collapse and want to do the right thing for all concerned.
"But I think that at the same time, neighbors want to make sure that we are not rushing into every solution possible," he says. "That we're looking at multiple solutions. And I think the question would be raised is that, in addressing the problem with rerouting traffic, is that solution necessary."
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak has taken on another alternative, one that focuses not on road diversions but public transportation. The city will work with Metro Transit to increase the number of buses on the road and park and ride stops for bus riders.
Rybak also has a general plea to residents - lighten the load on roads by sharing rides and taking the bus.
"If people come to you and say they want to do something in this horrible human tragedy, you need to communicate to them that one of the things they can do that is tangible and really matters is the simple act of co-worker of turning to a co-worker or friend who live near you and say, "I want to drive with you," Rybak says.
Rybak, who made that pitch before business leaders Friday, also urged them to help subsidize employees for bus passes.
- All Things Considered, 08/03/2007, 5:44 p.m.