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Remember W. River Parkway? Long-closed landslide area to reopen before Labor Day weekend

VideoVideo (00:20) : Heavy rain caused a mudslide below the University of Minnesota Medical Center.
Matt Gillmer

A long-closed section of W. River Parkway is likely to be open for Labor Day weekend.

That's the word from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board about the closed parkway segment downhill from Fairview-University Medical Center, where torrential rains in June, 2014 caused the landslide of a portion of the bluff onto the parkway below. It has remained closed for 26 months.

Cliff Swenson, a Park Board manager, said that the long-delayed reopening should occur in time for the morning commute on Sept. 2, the Friday of Labor Day weekend.

Repairs to keep the rest of the bluff from sliding actually were far enough along by last month to reopen the parkway. But that didn't happen because the contractor that is rebuilding the Franklin Avenue Bridge for Hennepin County needed the parkway running underneath to remain closed for access and safety reasons until the bridge was redecked.

Swenson said the plan is to remove barriers for both the parkway and the bridge after the close of the workday on Sept. 1. County spokesman Colin Cox would commit only to the bridge reopening "before Labor Day." About 10,000 motor vehicles use the bridge daily.

The lengthy closure of the parkway has irritated commuters who use the route and park commissioners who are peppered with questions from constituents about ever-extending plans for reopening.

The mudslide occurred in June 2014. Park officials said that September that the parkway wouldn’t reopen until August, 2015. Then, the following January after letting a contract for the job, they pushed that back to October. But construction didn’t start until early July. In September, 2015, completion was delayed to December. On Nov. 20, reopening the parkway by Jan. 1 was promised. Then park officials abruptly reversed that three weeks later and pushed the reopening back to around Labor Day, 2016.

This time, Swenson said, "We have a pretty good confidence level" in the reopening, barring something unexpected.

The project meanwhile ballooned to $6.3 million as delay and the complexity of the recommended fix increased costs. The Park Board expects to recoup most of that cost through federal and state disaster aid. It will also get reimbursement for some of the work from the medical center.

The main components of the project involve the installation of four new retaining walls, two high on the bluff and two closer to the bottom, and adding more drainage routes for stormwater via an large existing pipe that drains to the river.

Even after the parkway and bridge reopen, additional finishing work will continue.  Although both the parkway and adjoining trails are expected to remain open, intermittent closing of pedestrian and biking areas on the bridge are expected.  

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