The three-year reconstruction of Robert Street through West St. Paul will begin in 2014, ending years of community discussion about the design of the new $22 million road.

With its approval of the project last week, the City Council cemented the plan to reconstruct the 2.5-mile strip with a center median.

By resolution the council directed city staff and consultants to complete final plans for the project and "commence construction as soon as possible in the 2014 construction season.''

Dividing the four-lane road with a median is expected to improve traffic flow and safety by ending a wild pattern of zigzagging left turns from the two-way turn lane that runs down the center of the street now.

Some business owners opposed the median because it will prevent drivers from turning directly into their parking lots. But the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) insisted from the beginning that the road, which is a state highway, be rebuilt with a center median.

The construction will be the largest public works project in West St. Paul's history, and city officials expect it to rejuvenate the city. New sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping and monument signs at the entrance to town will come with the new pavement.

As a busy commuter route to downtown St. Paul and a main street for West St. Paul's commercial strip, Robert has heavy traffic. Its center turn lane and the 140 business and residential driveways that dot the street create an unusually busy traffic scene that results in a crash rate 89 percent higher than comparable four-lane roads.

Many of the driveways will be closed or consolidated as part of the project.

Even with a $7.3 million federal grant, city officials were worried for a time about whether they could scrape together all the money needed for the project. A recent $3.5 million grant from MnDOT closed the gap in funding.

To ease the burden of construction, the City Council opted to do the work in three segments over three years: from Annapolis to Butler avenues in 2014, between Butler and Wentworth avenues in 2015, and between Wentworth Avenue and Mendota Road in 2016. Clean up and landscaping will continue in 2017.

During construction of each segment, two lanes in one direction will remain open at all times. Opposing traffic will be directed to parallel residential streets — Oakdale Avenue on the east and Livingston Avenue on the west — to get drivers to businesses that line the street.

Officials envision mostly local traffic using the side streets. The goal is to eliminate commuter through-traffic from Robert by detouring it to Hwy. 52, said David Hutton of SRF Consulting Group, which is assisting the city with the project.

City approval of the project will begin negotiations for a range of easements and land purchases needed from roughly 160 parcels along the street, Hutton said. "We need something from just about everybody up and down the corridor.''

Some temporary easements will be needed just during construction. Some permanent easements will be needed for landscaping and streetlights. In some cases, land will have to be purchased for the widening of the street at some intersections, Hutton said.

The city hopes to complete these negotiations without the use of condemnation, but if necessary, the deadline for filing condemnation procedures will be Oct. 31 in order to secure all land needed by the end of the year.

The road will be rebuilt without noise walls, which were offered under federal rules. Robert Street landowners voted them down.

To reduce cost, the street also will be rebuilt without the $3 million pedestrian bridge initially envisioned at Wentworth Avenue.