St. Louis Park business owners concerned about construction plans
A project slated for Hwy. 7 and Louisiana will be big but won’t necessarily be easy for drivers.
State transportation officials and St. Louis Park staff outlined construction impacts with representatives of businesses near the intersection during an Oct. 30 meeting at the St. Louis Park Municipal Service Center. Several business owners expressed frustration regarding access issues.
The $26.4 million project will separate Hwy. 7 from Louisiana Avenue. Like a completed project at Hwy. 7 and Wooddale Avenue, Hwy. 7 entrance and exit ramps are planned. Unlike the Wooddale interchange, the project will include roundabouts, to be located at ramp endings on Louisiana Avenue and at the intersection of Louisiana and Walker Street.
Objections from business owners did not focus significantly on the design but rather on traffic impacts during the construction period.
Construction is scheduled next spring and run through November 2014. Comcast has already relocated its lines in the area. Xcel Energy will also relocate its lines.
The city does not intend to completely close any of the streets for long periods but access to businesses would sometimes require complicated, lengthy detours.
“Those two years as a retailer, it’s going to kill us,” said Nancy Newcomb, co-owner of Odds & Ends Furniture Gallery. “Vacancy rates will go up.”
Fellow Odds & Ends Furniture Gallery co-owner Guy Newcomb said the business would be at the end of a mile-long detour for a period during the construction.
Phil Weber, owner of Park Tavern, said he is concerned by the inability of motorists to connect directly to Hwy. 7 from Louisiana Avenue during parts of the project.
“You don’t want my customers at 1 a.m. driving through the neighborhoods,” Weber said. “The exits have to be addressed before you start the project.”
He predicted the project would also create “terrible congestion” on detour routes, including Minnetonka Boulevard.
Weber added that he did not believe the project would help his business even when construction is complete because Hwy. 7 would travel over Louisiana Avenue, making area businesses less visible.
“There’s no upside to this whole project from start to finish,” Weber said.
Similarly, Guy Newcomb said his business would suffer from a loss of drive-by business when the interchange is complete.
“We’ll be flyover country,” he said.
A document transportation officials provided to business owners states the new interchange would cut the number of crashes at the intersection in half, result in substantial reductions in vehicle delays, provide better safety and mobility for bicycles and pedestrians and improve response times for emergency vehicles, including ambulances serving Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital. The document also asserts the project would support development and redevelopment opportunities in the area as a result of travel time savings, improved travel reliability and increased safety.
The document indicates Minnesota Department of Transportation research has estimated businesses lose 30-40 percent of revenue during such projects. It adds the city and state does not possess grant funds to reimburse businesses for lost revenue. The city and state would assist with marketing and communications, though. Small business counseling and small business loans are also available.
The document also states the project will have to take place over two construction seasons.
“There is simply too much construction needed to be able to complete all of the work in one construction season,” states the document, provided by city staff and MnDOT.
St. Louis Park Public Works Director Mike Rardin expressed support for the business representatives during his remarks.
“You’re a vital part of the city of St. Louis Park’s economic base, employment base and retail service,” he told the audience. “The idea is you all thrive and continue to be a part of the community.”
Rardin indicated planners would continue to look for ways to lessen the impact on business owners.
“If you could wave a magic wand and say, ‘Poof, it happens,’ that would be great,” Rardin said. “We need to find the least impactful way to do this. We’ll see. I’m optimistic we can find a way.”
However, he added any changes to the project plans would need to take place quickly.
Business owners should project optimism, suggested Kent Barnard with MnDOT’s Metro District Public Affairs department.
“If you tell people you can’t get to your business, everything’s going to suck, they’re going to believe you,” Barnard said. “We want you to be positive.”
Traffic on Hwy. 7 would use a temporary bypass south of the existing highway with a temporary signal placed at Louisiana Avenue, according to plans in a document provided to business owners. Work on the bypass is slated to run June through August of next year. After the bypass is completed, construction on Hwy. 7 and Louisiana Avenue is scheduled September 2013 through November 2014.
Short-term closures of Louisiana Avenue are planned for the installation of bridge beams. Closures would typically last a few hours, mostly at night.
Access to north side businesses would vary during the project. Motorists on westbound Hwy. 7 would be able to turn right at Louisiana Avenue April 2013 to May 2014. Between June 2014 and November 2014, a signed route would direct motorists to use Texas Avenue and Minnetonka Boulevard.
From eastbound Hwy. 7, motorists would have access to businesses on the highway’s north side by traveling on Texas Avenue, 37th Street and Walker Street April 2013 to June 2014. Between July 2014 and November 2014, signs would direct them to use Texas Avenue to Minnetonka Boulevard and finally to Louisiana Avenue.
Access to southbound businesses would be similarly complicated. From April of next year to May 2014, signs would direct motorists from westbound Hwy. 7 to use Wooddale Avenue to travel to Lake Street, then to Walker Street and then to Louisiana Avenue. In June 2014 through November 2014, signs would direct them to use Blake Road to travel to Excelsior Boulevard and then to Louisiana Avenue.
Traffic on eastbound Hwy. 7 could turn right at Louisiana Avenue through May 2014. After that, they would be directed to turn right at Blake Road, travel to Excelsior Boulevard and then turn onto Louisiana Avenue.