There'll be more intersection closures along University and on Cedar Street. But the city has learned from last year.
This will be a summer of heavy lifting for those working on the Central Corridor light-rail line through St. Paul. It'll also be the most disruptive period for traffic in the project's three-year span, Metropolitan Council officials say.
That will cause headaches for commercial building owners, managers and tenants along the line. They'll have to cope with street and intersection closures along University Avenue and downtown's Cedar Street.
The impact of the Central Corridor's construction has been much debated since the project was announced. With nearly 1,000 businesses along the route, complaints have swelled about the elimination of on-street parking and blocked pedestrian access during construction. The vast majority of these firms have annual revenues of less than $2 million.
In response, a $4 million business-loan mitigation program was established, with 98 loans given so far at an average of $16,300 each.
Year 2 of construction is underway. Earlier this month, the key intersection of Cedar and 6th Street was shut down for eight weeks, with westbound traffic rerouted north to 7th Street.
Work also has begun on the remaining section of University Avenue to be converted to light rail, stretching east from Hamline Avenue to the State Capitol. University's eastbound lane will be reconstructed from Hamline to Milton Street in one of the first phases of this summer's construction. Work on University is scheduled to stretch through November.
In downtown along Cedar Street, a seven-phase schedule worked out in conjunction with city officials is in store. It calls for construction work from 12th Street on the north end to the corner of 4th and Minnesota streets on the south. This portion of the project will last through August.
But after this year's construction, the project will go from 45 percent to 75 percent complete, according to Mark Fuhrmann, project director for the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit.
"After that, in 2013, the work will be much less intrusive, with the main focus then being on systems, or the electrical work, including power substations and the overhead contacts system," Fuhrmann recently told members of the St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association.
For one University Avenue landlord, St. Paul-based Wellington Management, the Central Corridor project has been a mixed blessing. While it is beneficial to be along a light-rail transit line, traffic issues caused by construction hurt business, said company President Steve Wellington.
"The construction last year was very tough on our University Avenue retail tenants," he said in an e-mail. "Since the benefits of LRT are not available until 2014, it has so far been a real hardship for retail businesses."
Fuhrmann said that among the lessons learned from last year's construction was a way to significantly speed up the reconstruction of less-busy intersections along the University route. Instead of keeping one lane in each direction open on all cross streets, project planners will now only do this at major intersections. The minor ones will be completely closed to traffic.
"When we were doing the partial closures, the contractor would need two to three months and four moves to get the intersection done," Fuhrmann said. "That will now be much more telescoped. We tested it out on Fairview Avenue last fall, and the contractor was in and out in three weeks."
Don Jacobson is a St. Paul-based freelance writer. He can be reached at 651-501-4931.