St. Louis Park works hard to remake major intersection

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 7, 2008 - 10:35 PM

City officials are looking to fill a $7 million funding gap before moving forward with rebuilding Hwy. 7 and Wooddale Avenue.

If St. Louis Park finds the right strings to pull, 36,000 drivers on Hwy. 7 and another 10,000 on Wooddale Avenue will no longer have to cross paths by the end of 2010.

All that traffic now mixes in a congested tangle at the outmoded intersection of the state highway and the city street. The city wants to turn the street-level intersection into an interchange that would remove traffic signals from Hwy. 7 by bridging Wooddale Avenue over the highway.

But that will take $20 million -- a sum St. Louis Park does not yet have, even though the project holds a top spot on the Metropolitan Council's list of principal arterial streets in need of improvement.

That rank has won it $6 million from the federal government; the city already has spent $4 million for land and a new interchange design; and the city thinks it may land another $3 million from the state.

"But there is still a $7 million gap for which we have no funding source,'' said City Manager Tom Harmening. "We are continuing on with the design of this project with the hopes that we can work something out to fill this gap.''

What makes the intersection unique is the density of the traffic movement in the area, said city engineer Scott Brink.

Wooddale crosses Hwy. 7, frontage roads on either side of Hwy. 7, 36th Street, 35th Street, a railroad and a regional trail, all in very close proximity, Brink said.

A nearby fire station adds to the activity, and planned construction of a Southwest Light Rail Line station on Wooddale just south of Hwy. 7, along with expected redevelopment around the station, will draw even more traffic to the area, Brink said.

The city argues that St. Louis Park taxpayers should not shoulder the total cost for a road improvement that will benefit the users of a state highway and the riders of the Southwest Light Rail Line, which Hennepin County proposes to open by 2015.

The new interchange design would provide trails along Wooddale for bikes and pedestrians. But if the rail line were to open before the interchange was rebuilt, riders would have trouble reaching the station, Harmening said.

If the county, state or federal governments don't come through with the needed $7 million, the project could be delayed until 2010 without losing the $6 million federal grant. "However, doing so just increases the cost,'' Harmening said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is supporting the project by working to get the necessary approval for the interchange design provided by the city and by getting construction plans ready to go, said Wayne Norris, the acting west area manager. MnDOT also plans to act as the administrator of the project contract, thus saving the city about $1.6 million.

The new interchange would be a huge benefit to the traffic flow along Hwy. 7 west of Hwy. 100, Norris said. "It would be a shame to see this project not get funding.''

Just east of the intersection, the long-promised permanent rebuilding of Hwy. 100 through St. Louis Park is now scheduled for 2014, Norris said. To ease rush hour backups, MnDOT in 2006 added temporary third lanes in each direction to a two-mile stretch of Hwy. 100 by using existing shoulders.

St. Louis Park should know within the next several months whether the Wooddale interchange work can start next year, Harmening said.

Once the two-year construction project gets going, Wooddale -- which is a key route to St. Louis Park High School -- would be closed to traffic at Hwy. 7 for at least one full construction season, Brink said.

Next on the city's agenda is another new interchange on Hwy. 7 at Louisiana Avenue, Brink said.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711

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