Area mayors ask governor for new Rice Street bridge over I-694

The Rice Street Bridge over Interstate-694 seen from the east during non-peak traffic times. During rush hours, city officials say, traffic on the bridge backs up onto the interstate. (Mike Munzenrider/Review)
The Rice Street Bridge over Interstate-694 seen from the east during non-peak traffic times. During rush hours, city officials say, traffic on the bridge backs up onto the interstate. (Mike Munzenrider/Review)
With Shoreview to the left, Vadnais Heights in the upper right and Little Canada in the lower right, the Rice Street bridge, circled, contributes to traffic congestion issues in all three cities, according to their mayors. (Map via Google Maps)
With Shoreview to the left, Vadnais Heights in the upper right and Little Canada in the lower right, the Rice Street bridge, circled, contributes to traffic congestion issues in all three cities, according to their mayors. (Map via Google Maps)

A large and looming roadway reconstruction project on the Interstate-694 corridor has area mayors wondering, “What about the Rice Street bridge?”

The mayors of Little Canada, Shoreview and Vadnais Heights sent a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton dated March 11 asking him to include funding for the reconstruction of the bridge and interchange over 694 on his list of transportation funding priorities.

Lane additions to 694 from Rice Street to Lexington Avenue slated for 2016 that are a part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Corridors of Commerce project could leave the Rice Street bridge as an isolated bit of inadequate infrastructure.

“For years, Ramsey County and the cities in this area have waited patiently for funding to replace this outdated bridge that is insufficient to handle the transportation needs of our residents, commuters, and businesses,” the letter says.

Shoreview Mayor Sandy Martin says Sen. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, and Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, had urged businesses near the interchange to write the governor to voice their support of rebuilding the bridge.

Martin says her fellow city heads, Vadnais Heights Mayor Marc Johannsen and Little Canada Mayor John Keis, were amenable to signing onto the letter to further lobby for a new bridge.

“They were very easy to get to agree on that,” Martin says. “We thought it would have a little more clout.”

The county and the cities have requested a new bridge dating back to 1989, Martin says—“That’s when we were originally promised.” More requests and more promises have been made, on and off, since.

The letter, penned by Shoreview, says area businesses including Boston Scientific and Land O’Lakes have told the cities the congestion created by the bridge’s insufficient capacity negatively affects employees’ commutes and hurts the companies’ abilities to do business.

The letter also states that at-grade railroad crossings in the area compound congestion problems.

During discussion of the letter at Little Canada’s March 11 council meeting, city administrator Joel Hanson said MnDOT considers the bridge to be structurally sound, though the problems with it become apparent during rush hour.

“If you drive that area or go home that way at night, many times that bridge backs up onto the highway; the bridge is a bottleneck,” Hanson said.

Martin says the disruptions created by the planned work on 694—an additional lane for both east and westbound traffic—shouldn’t be repeated when the bridge is finally replaced. “It makes no sense,” she says.

Bridge to redevelopment

Beyond traffic congestion, the letter says uncertainty surrounding transportation improvements in the area has hampered redevelopment around the interchange.

“A lot of the economic development that could have happened has been held off,” Martin says. “There are all sorts of balls in the air and none of them can occur until this thing is settled.”

The letter also mentions a 12-acre parcel of land that Shoreview purchased from the county in 2005 via the Metropolitan Council Right-Of-Way Acquisition Loan Fund, located in the southwest corner of the interchange.

The letter states the purchase was made in anticipation of future redevelopment, but, as it currently sits, it houses trees, piles of dirt and sand, as well as refuse from its former life as a Ramsey County Maintenance site. It’s described by the letter as “undeveloped and unsightly to our communities and surrounding neighborhoods.”

If the Rice Street bridge were replaced, MnDOT would purchase the land as right-of-way from Shoreview, for a price pegged at around $6 million, per the Met Council RALF program.

Hanson said at the Little Canada meeting that MnDOT could be “not thrilled” about paying for the land and was dragging its feet on doing anything about the bridge.

Martin says she does not know if MnDOT is delaying movement on the bridge because it’s hesitant to buy the parcel, but she says Shoreview has played its part in keeping the right-of-way open.

“We’ve been good sports,” she says.

Rice Street forms the border between Shoreview and Vadnais Heights with the bridge at its southern bounds. Little Canada is just south and east of the bridge and experiences traffic headaches that originate there.

Beyond the 694 lane work, other bridge projects are planned in the area over the next few years, many related to the Rice Creek Commons/TCAAP development, including:

• County Road E over Snelling Avenue in Arden Hills. Work is expected to begin April 13 and the completed bridge should be open by late August.

• Highway 96 at Interstate-35W in Arden Hills and New Brighton, beginning this spring.

• County Road E2 over Interstate-35W in Arden Hills and New Brighton, beginning spring 2016.

• County Road H over Interstate-35W in Arden Hills and Mounds View, beginning spring 2016.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.


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