Friday, June 22, 2012

Busting the Myth of the Light Rail Construction Timeline

After living here for almost a year, I can definitely say that I have seen, lived through and been in the epicenter of the Central Corridor Light Rail construction project. Unless you are a huge construction-watching junkie (guilty), all of this construction has probably been the precursor of the apocalypse for you, especially if you spend a good number around Stadium Village and the Medical Center. And I'm sure the dirt and grime have epitomized the frustration in your mind, too. I think my favorite is night construction, when you have a test at 8:00am the next day and you hear piledriving outside of your window.

Guess it's time to get up for a midnight snack...

And, the biggest hit of all is... Everyone knows that the light rail won't be open till 2014. To which I know you say:


And my reply:

"No, Washington Avenue will be back much sooner. Do not fret, my friend."

It is well versed that the rail won't be operating until 2014, but the myth that the road construction will be going on until then at this intensity is a complete and unfortunate lie. In fact, we are closer to being out of the dust and grime of civil physical construction than you may think.

"As for keeping on schedule for fall, we are still on par", says Jessica Hill, the Minneapolis/U of M community outreach coordinator for the Central Corridor Project. She says that the hard construction will continue on campus throughout the year leading into November. However, after the lines are in place, she says that Washington Avenue will begin to resemble something other than a torn up slab. " Crews will need to keep working into November but roads and sidewalks will most likely be complete (by December)."
What does this mean for us as Golden Gophers? Well, basically, the phyiscal road will be in place by the end of this year, and will resemble something very close to what the actual street will look like when the rail does open in 2014.

After the so-called hard "civil" construction is complete later this year, most of the roadwork will be installing the overhead wires, stations, and platforms from now until mid-2013. The road will still be closed occasionally, but the barriers will be less and will look more like what Washington looks like in front of McNamara between Oak and Walnut. When the entire course of track is placed, then trains will begin testing the line early in 2014, and set for an opening date of late Spring 2014 (The schedule was a little behind schedule back in February, but the mild spring definitely helped speed it up a bit).

So, although we will all still have to live with the torn up Wash Ave for a bit longer, it certainly won't be for 2 more years. Washington will soon be walkable on both sides of the sidewalk. And of course, until it opens, we can all dream of what it will be like when it opens:

Friday, June 8, 2012

The 15th Avenue Mural Project - A modern city beautification effort

Last fall, I was walking back from Van Cleve Park in the Como neighborhood on a nice Friday evening after a great game of tennis with a couple friends (Those concrete courts are entertaining to play on, by the way). The only sidewalk that connects Dinkytown with Como is the underpass on 15th Avenue - every U of M student should know this by the time they finish their freshman year. As I entered the underpass which heavy rail lines pass above, I couldn't help but notice the terribly depleting state that the pass was in. It was actually at that moment when I thought of creating this blog... this thought was the instigation for my passion for a continuing improvement of the urban landscape around the campus area.

Do I hear a train rolling across the bridge? No, that's just the breeze shaking it violently.
Now, all subjective feelings aside, the bridge which flies over 15th Avenue SE is truly in poor shape. The gusset plates which support the bottom are easily seen deteriorating by age and disinvestment. The construction date, 1921, is placed around multiple areas on the bridge, illustrating its true age. The light posts under the tunnel are eerie, as they illuminate the sidewalks barely enough to pass as feasible light posts. In my mind, they look appropriate for an industrial-aged rail bridge overpass... they are basic and do the job. Last but certainly not least, the multiple shades of cream color are painted on the retaining walls on either side of the road, as multiple attempts to paint the eroding concrete are visible. More or less, this small, very pedestrian-traveled stretch of 15th Avenue needs work.

Who needs strong bridge gusset plates, anyways?

The rebar and framed light make me think I'm heading to do my shift in the coal mine.

The current state of the northeast retaining wall on 15th Avenue.
My initial thought was to bring up the topic, rant about not only the appearance but the safety hazards under the bridge, complain about the disinterest of multiple parties, and then call people to action. Thankfully, it looks like a group of like-minded fellow students have done the latter, and plans are on the way to improve the look of the retaining walls on either side of the underpass.

Enter the Gateway Mural Project.

Rendition of the public art - Northeast side of 15th Avenue.

Marie Fisher, an assistant to the coordinator of the Mural Project and member of the Student Liaison Program, stated that community workshops are just beginning.

"The mural is a collaborative project between Carly Schmitt, Sara Udwig (the artists), the Student Neighborhood Liaisons at the University of Minnesota, and the neighborhood residents," Marie stated. "This project involves community members on many levels, in both design and implementation."

According to an old article, public art grants were awarded for this project back in March after many months of organization, although the article has expired since. The Twin Cities Daily Planet ran an article about the movement back in November and can be read here.

Now, this is something (possibly from the lingering funding of the old NRP) that I can completely support. This stretch of 15th Ave is so heavily traveled by pedestrians that it always baffled me why there hadn't been some type of public art, something to ease the long walk between campus and the student housing-centric neighborhood. I truly believe that neighborhoods and communities in general become more tightly-knit by having an amenity like this, and even if it doesn't happen soon, the concept of gathering students, neighborhood organizers and professional artists together creates a positive catalyst for general public involvement in urban landscapes. It will also signal to whoever is in charge of the actual bridge (BNSF, Amtrak, City of MPLS) that the neighborhood is ready for it to be fixed, at least aesthetically if not structurally.

Regardless if the funds were awarded, it is good to see that this project has been up, running, and in the works. If you would like to become involved, please visit and like the facebook page, and keep updated - this is a great opportunity for students to make a real visible impact on a blighted portion of a major street for years to come.