Still wrangling with the best way to pay for the reconstruction of Robert Street, West St. Paul plans to ask the Minnesota Department of Transportation a second time to pick up most of the cost in exchange for the city agreeing to make the state road a city street.
West St. Paul proposed this trade earlier this year and received a letter dated March 14 from Metro District Engineer Scott McBride saying MnDOT would contribute $12.2 million to the $22 million project if the city would take ownership of the road, which would mean plowing it and maintaining it.
That would not be enough money to justify the city taking over all future maintenance costs, City Manager Matt Fulton told City Council members last week.
Council members authorized him to try again, this time saying West St. Paul would front the money for the project if MnDOT would pay the city back when it has funds available. The city’s goal is to reduce the cost of the project borne by West St. Paul taxpayers.
Robert Street is a state-owned road, but rebuilding it as a four-lane road with a center median was initiated by the city and MnDOT has said it considers the state contribution fair.
The recent cost estimates put the project beyond what MnDOT has budgeted for the work and go beyond the scope of work MnDOT would consider necessary to meet state performance targets for the road, McBride said in his letter.
Performance targets relate to ride quality, travel speed, snow and ice, and conditions of the bridges on a road, among other things, said Jon Solberg, a MnDOT planner. The Robert Street project “has city elements in it that are driven by their needs and not necessarily driven by our performance targets,” Solberg said.
If the state were doing the project, “would we do pavement? Sure. Would we do safety improvements? Sure. But at what level? There are a lot of city needs on this project,” Solberg said. “We feel we are being fair in our contribution to the project for our needs.”
West St. Paul contends that it makes sense for the state to divest itself of Robert. It functions like a local street, and MnDOT has been turning such roads over to cities and counties for years.
Council Member Pat Armon asked what it would cost West St. Paul to maintain Robert if the city took over the road. City staff did not have an answer.
But City Manager Fulton said the goal is to persuade Dakota County to take over Robert in the future, in exchange for the city taking over some county roads.
Dave Hutton a transportation consultant who functions as the project manager for the city, said the amount of state funding would not ultimately stop the project from getting started later this year. The state contribution will determine how much the city would pay, but the city would be prepared to move ahead one way or another, selling bonds to finance it if necessary, he said.
The project plans must be approved by MnDOT and ready to go out to competing contractors for bids by June. A contract is likely to be awarded by August, and the city will want the funding resolved before awarding a contract, Hutton said.