Shortcut, parkland or connector to interstate?
St. Paul's Ayd Mill Road cuts north-south through the city from Selby Avenue to Interstate 35E and for decades has been viewed as a secret speedway, a shortcut and a scourge.
The politically explosive passageway is resurfacing for another discussion about its fate because of the hoped-for building of a new Hamline Avenue bridge over the road.
Teri Breton, who owns a Portland Avenue house and a duplex that back up to Ayd Mill near Hamline, wants a discussion and a decision. "Everybody's pointing the finger at everyone else," she said. "We've lived with this long enough."
Residents have debated whether the road should have a direct connection on the north end to Interstate 94. Breton would like to see the Hamline exit off the road closed. Others want the corridor turned into parkland as a route for bikers and walkers. The City Council voted in 2000 to take Ayd Mill down to two lanes rather than four, but then-Mayor Randy Kelly rejected the plan.
Ayd Mill is a nearly 2-mile neighborhood shortcut built in the 1960s but conceived 50 years ago as a connection between I-94 and I-35E.
Breton isn't happy about all the traffic on Hamline and is among those residents with lingering irritation at Kelly's decision to connect the roadway to I-35E on the south end in 2003.
At the time, Kelly ordered further study of the connection to I-94. From the study came a city proposal to extend Ayd Mill north over the interstate, ending at St. Anthony Avenue. A $2 million funding request to start the planning process for the route languished.
While Breton's dream would be to close the Hamline exit, she's also a realist who wants to see fair public debate and resolution. She loves the idea of a parkland but views it as unrealistic. A northern connection would move traffic from her neighborhood. "If it doesn't turn out my way, but they've done it democratically, then I'll live with that," she said.
Mike Madden, a neighborhoods, transit and environmental activist, will be pushing to decrease traffic not just on Ayd Mill, but on Hamline. Building larger roadways doesn't coincide with the goal of "trying to transition from an auto-centered society to a biking, walking and mass transit society," Madden said. "This is a case study in how you ram a highway down a neighborhood's throat."
Madden wants to see the roadway turned into parkland because now, "You can get anywhere you want to go by car, but you can't get where you want to go by bike or bus," he said.
City engineer John Maczko said he's aware of a call to action. "I think there's a feeling that doing nothing isn't an option," he said. "We need to do something."
Council Member Melvin Carter III, who represents areas affected by Ayd Mill, didn't return calls. Council Member Dave Thune, who represents neighborhoods on the southern end, remains unhappy with the connection to 35E. "We don't need to serve people in Eagan at the expense of people in St. Paul," he said.
Kelly called Ayd Mill the "road to nowhere," but Thune said that it serves as a path through the city.
Connecting Ayd Mill to two freeways would be a "disaster," Thune said. "If you open it up on both ends it's a freeway ... forget any chances for a parkway or bikeway."
Maczko countered that 70 percent of the road's traffic comes from residents, not suburbanites going elsewhere outside St. Paul.
In 2000, Mayor Chris Coleman voted as a council member on a two-lane compromise that would connect indirectly with I-94 on the north. In 2007, a mayoral aide said he still supported that compromise.
"This is obviously a stretch of road in St. Paul that has a lot of public interest and the mayor is interested to hear what the community has to say," spokesman Joe Campbell said last week.
Breton, who is mobilizing neighbors, is ready to be heard. "If anything's going to happen, it's going to come up from the people," she said.
Maczko agreed. "There's a willingness to do something if there's a rallying point about what that is," he said.
Rochelle Olson • 651-925-5035 Twitter: @rochelleolson