Minneapolis leaders want the Metropolitan Council to speed up construction on a bridge west of downtown, saying the existing plan for a two-year closure will isolate North Side neighborhoods from the rest of the city for too long.
Construction will begin Monday on Glenwood Avenue, a busy street that connects many of Minneapolis’ most racially diverse neighborhoods to downtown, to make way for the Southwest Light Rail transit line expansion.
Drivers will have to take detours to reach downtown until 2021.
In a June 12 letter to Met Council Chair Nora Slawik, City Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represents that area, criticized the lengthy closure and said the Met Council has closed other areas without any visible work taking place.
“Because this is a major connector between downtown Minneapolis, Bryn Mawr and north Minneapolis, it is not acceptable to take that long to rebuild this small bridge,” wrote Goodman in the letter, provided to the Star Tribune. “Let me remind you the 35W bridge over the Mississippi was constructed in twelve months. Adjustments and concessions need to be made to minimize the length of time for this part of the project.”
The dispute comes as Minneapolis leaders pledge to reverse the city’s neighborhood segregation built through generations of racially biased housing policies.
This project could do the opposite by cutting off “areas of concentrated poverty” from the rest of the city for two years, said Council Member Linea Palmisano, who met with Slawik earlier this week to share her concerns.
“You’re isolating them, and that’s bad for the neighborhood,” Palmisano said in an interview. “I get that you’re going to need to close it at some point — but how do we do it for the least amount of time possible?”
In an interview Thursday, Slawik said she’s heeding the criticism. “We take the concerns seriously,” she said. “I think they are valid.”
She plans to meet with Goodman and Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, whose districts, in addition to Palmisano’s, will be most affected by the light-rail construction, she said. Slawik also said she’ll talk to staff to ensure they’re working in the “most expeditious manner possible” without sacrificing quality and safety.
“It is the state’s largest construction project in the history of Minnesota,” she said of the entire light rail construction. “It is a big project, and we are working closely both with [elected officials] and with the construction folks to make sure this moves along as fast as possible.”
Trevor Roy, spokesman for the Met Council, said staff has been talking to the community about detours around the Glenwood closure since 2013. The Met Council has reached out to residents and hasn’t heard an inordinate number of complaints about the project.
“Detours by their very nature are inconvenient, but we’re not closing off every access point to downtown from those two neighborhoods,” Roy said.
Goodman’s letter cites complaints from constituents over other closures and a pattern of the Met Council closing areas “arbitrarily” long before construction begins. She cites the parking lot across from Lee’s Liquor Lounge, a popular bar that closed in May. “Met Council insisted on kicking the renter out of the space and fencing it off prior to the closing date of the bar,” she writes. “One month later the only use occurring here is the storage of a single construction trailer.”
Goodman declined to comment beyond the letter.