Over the past couple of years, Ramsey County officials have been talking with residents and business owners about making significant changes along a 2-mile stretch of Rice Street through St. Paul's North End neighborhood.

The conversation will continue with an open house at 5 p.m. Thursday at Washington Technology Magnet School, where planners will give an update on the community-driven vision for the corridor and get feedback on a recommended design.

Rice Street is a four-lane road in need of a makeover to address aging infrastructure and safety and traffic concerns, county officials said. In the coming years, Metro Transit is planning to bring a bus rapid transit line to the complex north-south corridor, which features a mix of residential, commercial and industrial properties.

Discussions about redoing Rice Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Wheelock Parkway began in 2019 with goals of creating an inviting environment, promoting economic growth, enhancing pedestrian and bicycle safety, maintaining and improving transit service and addressing vehicle safety.

Seven initial designs emerged. That was later reduced to three. Consulting firm Bolton and Menk, which the county brought on to help with the project, has recommended one.

The recommended plan would feature one travel lane in each direction, separated by a center lane to allow drivers to make left turns. In some places, such as at Lawson Avenue where a new $20 million community center is planned, concrete medians would replace the turn lane to improve pedestrian access and make crossing Rice Street safer, planners said.

The plan also calls for a 12-foot-wide shared pedestrian and bike path on the west side of Rice Street and a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side. That leaves about 6 feet of space on both sides of the street that could be used as green space with trees, parking, public art or a wider sidewalk.

"One of the topics we want to ask community about is the flex space by the sidewalk or path," said planner Nick Fischer. "We want to hear from the community their ideas on these potential elements."

Input from Thursday's meeting will be used to finalize plans for the $32 million project, which is slated to begin in 2024. Work will start on the north end of the corridor near Wheelock Parkway and move south in phases over three construction seasons, ending at Pennsylvania in 2026, Fischer said.

Construction can be disruptive, so "another topic we want to get feedback on [Thursday] is property access during construction," Fischer said.

Hwy. 610 ramp update

Coon Rapids officials say they are waiting for MnDOT to approve plans for adding on-ramps from westbound Hwy. 610 to East River Road and from East River Road to eastbound Hwy. 610. Currently, only westbound on-ramps and eastbound off-ramps to and from Hwy. 610 exist at East River Road and Coon Rapids Boulevard.