West St. Paul City Council members have decided they want to do the Robert Street reconstruction "right" and will take another month to consider adding boulevard trees and lighted street signs to the $22 million project.
A decision on the streetscape plan is now set for Dec. 16.
At a council meeting last week, Council Member Jenny Halverson made an impassioned plea to include boulevard trees along the 2.5 miles of Robert which will undergo three years of reconstruction starting in 2014.
Trees must be planted "if our goal is wholesale, positive, monumental change for Robert Street," Halverson said. "To me, this is a legacy decision. This is not going to change for 30 to 50 years minimum. This is bigger than the City Hall project. If you are going to do it, do it right."
SRF consultants, who have served as the Robert Street project manager, first said there was not space for the trees in the eight-foot-wide sidewalks that flank the street. But in response to Halverson's insistence, SFR said the trees could be put in at a cost of $2,500 to $3,000 each, including the cost of tree grates, watering systems, special soils and working around utilities under the sidewalks.
If trees were planted every 50 feet, it would add $500,000 to the cost of project. If the spacing were 30 feet it could cost $1 million or more, SRF said.
Trees should have been part of the project from the beginning, Halverson said.
"I don't just want trees in four spots," as first proposed, she said. "I want them consistently up and down the 2.5 miles."
The original plan, scheduled for approval last week, calls for trees in the median in locations where it is wide enough for plantings and in other locations where the city is able to gain easements on private property. Halverson says that is not enough.
"Why spend $20 to $22 million on a project when it's not going to be the wholesale change we are looking for?" she said. Without boulevard trees, people will look at it and say, "We didn't get it quite right, we didn't do enough," Halverson said. "I think we deserve better, and we can do better."
Other council members agreed.
"Jenny has kind of opened my eyes to this project," said Council Member Dick Vitelli. "She is right. If we are going to do this thing and spend $22 million, we better do it right. When we are done with this, people should say, 'Wow — a beautiful job here.'"
Council Member Pat Armon also called for the beautification of the project with trees. "We are in competition with other area cities, like it or not. The numbers we are talking about here are worth the investment to be a player in that competition."
Council Member David Wright said, "I tend to agree. I think this is the one opportunity you have to make a wow factor. What you are doing here is creating an edge for development that other communities don't have."
Council Member Dave Napier said he, too, wants a project that the community will be proud of. "The corridor needs to have a beauty to it. It needs to have a welcoming feel to it."
The internally lit street signs suggested by Mayor John Zanmiller are also worth considering, Napier said. "We want people to come in and be looking for those signs."
However, Zanmiller said he is experiencing "sticker shock" over the $60,000 price tag that SFR hung on adding the internally lit signs at Marie, Wentworth, Thompson and Butler avenues.
"I think we can hire somebody to stand there with a flashlight cheaper," Zanmiller said.
In the time before Dec. 16, the city will consider the cost of the trees and lights and how much it might delay the project to add them at this point.