Richfield is moving ahead with an ambitious project to reconstruct 66th Street, the city's unofficial Main Street.
But some residents will pay the price for progress. The road plan, adopted by the City Council on Tuesday night by a 3-2 vote, will require 18 homes to be demolished on the south side of 66th Street between Interstate 35W and Penn Avenue S.
The reconstruction plan was endorsed by a citizen transportation commission, as well as by the city's public works and engineering staffs. It calls for widening the busy four-lane road to allow the addition of bike lanes, designated turn lanes and sidewalks separated from the road by boulevards. The $37 million project will rebuild more than 3 miles of the street from near the airport to the Southdale area.
Currently, 66th Street carries about 20,000 vehicles a day, far more than it was designed to handle. There are no bike lanes or turn lanes. The sidewalks directly abut the roadway, forcing pedestrians "to walk with their elbows in traffic," as one city official said. Some homes are only 6 to 8 feet from the street.
Voting in favor of the rebuilding plan were council members Edwina Garcia, Sue Sandahl and Tom Fitzhenry. Mayor Debbie Goettel and Council Member Pat Elliott voted against it.
"We've had a lot of folks who have looked at this issue. We've had a lot of engineers and staff people," Garcia said. "The transportation commission listened to a lot of people who attended their meetings.
"If we're going to sit up here and represent the whole community, tough decisions have got to be made," she said.
Elliott had harsh words for county and state traffic engineers, whom he said have contributed to 66th Street's problems through poor engineering on the nearby Crosstown Hwy. 62. When the Crosstown is jammed, drivers often jump onto 66th Street, the nearest east-west road, as an alternate route.
"To me, it's disconcerting … that 18 homes have to go so we can accommodate Hennepin County and the incompetent engineers that developed Crosstown 62, that doesn't service the traffic it's supposed to," Elliott said.
"Those inadequacies and those inefficiencies on the engineering side with the county and MnDOT put us in a position where we're backed into a corner. And I don't appreciate it and I'm not willing to sacrifice 18 homes to do that," he said.
Sandahl called the plan a 75- to 100-year decision for the city.
"Everybody agrees: What's there now isn't safe," she said. "What we are left with is the best possible solution for the whole city and for the different modes of transportation."