Ramsey County crews have started work on more than $51 million in road construction and maintenance projects for the upcoming 2020 season — and the lighter traffic stemming from the coronavirus crisis is making things go a bit more smoothly.

The most high-profile projects include the $14.7 million replacement of the Dale Street bridge over Interstate 94, and the radical redesign of an unusual five-way Highland Park intersection in St. Paul.

Crews this year will complete the $23 million project replacing the Rice Street bridge and interchange at Interstate 694 where Little Canada, Roseville and Vadnais Heights meet, a project that began in 2019.

Several busy thoroughfares will be narrowed from four lanes to two, with dedicated left-turn lanes added to improve safety.

The Ramsey County Board officially approved the 50-plus projects last week as part of its transportation improvement plan. It’s “full steam ahead” with this year’s projects, said Ramsey County Public Works Director Ted Schoenecker.

And the lack of vehicles on the streets is making life easier for workers.

“You don’t have cars cutting through worksites as much. It’s safer for workers with fewer vehicles and fewer interactions,” Schoenecker said.

The biggest project will be the Dale Street bridge, which will cause disruptions all summer, he said.

I-94 will close this weekend between Hwy. 280 and Interstate 35E so crews can demolish half the current bridge. Crews then will build half of the new bridge before they demolish the rest of the 1960s-era bridge later this summer.

That will allow crews to keep the Dale Street bridge open during construction, though traffic will be reduced to a single lane each way.

The new bridge should be complete by this fall, with some final work on roadway approaches finished in summer 2021. The bridge will include dedicated turn lanes, wide walking paths and artistic elements designed to improve traffic flow, enhance pedestrian safety and better connect the Rondo area, a historic black neighborhood of St. Paul that was divided by the freeway’s construction decades ago.

Stressing safety

The upcoming construction of a senior living complex enabled Ramsey County to purchase right-of-way easements and created the opportunity to reconfigure one of St. Paul’s most unusual intersections: the five-way stop at Lexington Parkway, W. 7th Street and Montreal Avenue.

When work is complete, the five-way will become a four-way intersection. Lexington will dead-end at a cul-de-sac just north of W. 7th, Schoenecker said, and be realigned to connect with Elray Street to the east.

The plan is to eventually extend Lexington Parkway all the way south to Shepard Road, Schoenecker said. Pedestrian and bicycle connections will also be added.

Ramsey County will continue with 4-to-3 road conversions, or a “road diet,” changing four-lane streets to two lanes with dedicated left-turn lanes. The reconfigured roads slow vehicles, reduce accidents and make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street.

Two county roads in St. Paul — Maryland Avenue between Arkwright Street and Payne Avenue, and Larpenteur Avenue between Dale Street and I-35E — will be resurfaced and converted from four lanes to two. Last year the county reduced traffic lanes on portions of Maryland and Larpenteur in response to pedestrian fatalities. Officials said it’s working.

“They’ve been extremely successful for many reasons,” Schoenecker said. “The big thing we are stressing is safety, safety, safety. We are going to see some delays during peak hours, but nothing that isn’t manageable.”

Ramsey County’s system includes nearly 850 lane miles of county roads and 57 bridges. A list of projects is available at www.ramseycounty.us/.