Ayd Mill Road, an ugly chipped-concrete bypass that runs through several west-central St. Paul districts, long has resisted city attempts to balance its usefulness to motorists with the resultant traffic and congestion.
Now neighbors and businesses on the north end of Ayd Mill, where it spills traffic onto Selby Avenue, are hoping to remake the 45-mile-per-hour eyesore into a slower and neighborhood-friendly link between the Snelling-Hamline and W. 7th Street districts.
Their fear is that, with new development on the horizon, Ayd Mill will only get noisier and busier unless action is taken now.
A community task force is asking the city for a $150,000 study to analyze the issue and propose a makeover in keeping with their concerns.
The development helping to spur a new study is threefold:
• Plans for a new mixed-use apartment and retail complex at the corner of Selby and Snelling avenues.
• Construction this year of a new and improved Hamline Avenue bridge over Ayd Mill Road and rail tracks.
• Completion next year of the Central Corridor light-rail line along University Avenue.
The task force isn't taking a stand on specific solutions, Teri Breton said.
"We want to get a consultant and do this right," said Breton, who chairs the task force and whose back yard adjoins an Ayd Mill ramp off Hamline Avenue.
But the Ayd Mill Road she envisions would be something akin to a 35-mph landscaped parkway, with room for pedestrians and cyclists, that would end not at Selby but curl northward on a new route through an industrial area to hook up with Interstate 94.
"My personal preference is that it not be another Hwy. 280, a fast-moving direct connect between freeways," she said, referring to the busy highway near the St. Paul-Minneapolis border.
The task force request for a study isn't a sure thing. It will compete with scores of other funding proposals for a slice of the city's 2014-15 capital improvement budget.
But then nothing about Ayd Mill Road in the past 20 years has been a sure thing, no matter how significant various twists and turns seemed to be at the time.
Task force mandates
The 1.6-mile road runs through the valley of old Cascade Creek, where a German settler named John Ayd built a grist mill in the 1850s. A rail line was built at the turn of the century, and the road itself sprang up in the 1960s to link the new interstate highways.
But neighborhood opposition delayed Interstate 35E, and it wasn't until the 1990s that Ayd Mill Road was temporarily connected to it.
In 2000, the City Council wanted to remake the four-lane, 45-mph road into a two-lane parkway linking the freeways, but the project was never funded. A citizens' group proposal to transform it into a linear park was rejected.
Mayor Randy Kelly decided in 2002 to restore Ayd Mill's connection to I-35E, but while it would reduce neighborhood street traffic on the south end, neighbors and businesses on the north end claimed it would add to congestion there.
In 2005, an environmental impact statement analyzed Kelly's proposal to turn Ayd Mill into a parkway and extend it one-third mile to the north to connect with I-94 at St. Anthony Avenue. But the project, estimated to cost $44 million, was overshadowed by work on the Central Corridor and shelved.
In its application for funding for the study, the task force states that the final option for Ayd Mill must be one that reduces accidents, noise and congestion on the north end; reduces and slows traffic on neighboring streets; restricts truck traffic; provides a bike and pedestrian trail; and adds a park or other green space.
The task force wants to look at sound barriers or vegetative screening along Ayd Mill, and bike and pedestrian connections to the light-rail corridor, among other issues.
Ryan Cos. will develop the mixed-use project planned for the corner of Selby and Snelling, which some believe will include 200 to 300 apartments.
Mark Schoening, Ryan's senior vice president for national retail, said details can't be released because plans are still in the works with property owner Associated Bank. "More to come soon," he said.
The Union Park District Council, which encompasses the Snelling-Hamline area, is backing the task force request for the Ayd Mill study, executive director Sarah Kidwell said.
"There's an interest from residents to come to a conclusion and have a decision once and for all," she said. "There are many pieces in the bigger picture to consider."
Kevin Duchschere • 651-222-2732