South St. Paul continues prep for Concord Street makeover

Hannah Burlingame

Review staff

 

The South St. Paul City Council voted Oct. 15 to agree to a memorandum that breaks down the responsibilities associated with future construction on Concord Street.

The work isn’t slated to begin until 2021, and will take place in the area from Interstate 494 to Annapolis Street. 

Chris Hartzell, city engineer, said the council has talked about improvements in the area since 2016. 

“Early on, [the Minnesota Department of Transportation] came to us and said, ‘Hey, we want to spend a few dollars on Concord Street to piece together some of the issues we know are wrong,’” said Hartzell, adding the issues included things like a lack of continuous sidewalks and large cracks where there are sidewalks.

Hartzell said the council and city staff decided to look at what it would take to make Concord Street into the city’s vision.

A planning study was done in February 2016 that showed what might be accomplished in the corridor. Hartzell said that in December 2017, the city applied for a federal grant to improve Concord and was awarded $7.56 million, adding city staffers talked about tying the city’s work into MnDOT’s overall vision for the corridor.

Further studies for the work were done this February, which helped decide roles and responsibilities between MnDOT and the city, Hartzell said. 

He added there have been a lot of “handshake agreements” on how to proceed and now they have reached the point of drafting a memorandum of understanding, which was before the council that night.

 

The project

The goals of the project include revitalizing the corridor to support economic growth, repurposing the existing roadway where possible to support redevelopment and improving the connectivity to businesses already in place, while increasing the safety and efficiency for all users. 

Work will also include roadway rehabilitation and reconstruction.

“I don’t think it’s any surprise that it really needs some help out there,” Hartzell said.

Other work entails evaluating existing roadway layouts and upgrades to city utilities and pedestrian-bicycle accommodations. 

Design work for the project, which is still in the early stages, will be done in a similar manner to the Southview Boulevard project, with public involvement. Hartzell said it could take three years to develop plans for the work, for which the total estimated cost is almost $30 million. 

Funding will come from the $7.56 million federal grant, $7.5 million from the MnDOT State Transportation Improvement Program, $5 million from MnDOT Main Street funding and $4.4 million from city utility funds. 

There may be additional funding to fill in any gaps from MnDOT Turnback funds. Other potential funding could come from state bonding, special assessments and other federal programs.

 

The memorandum

Hartzell said the memorandum, which is a non-binding agreement, involves all parties developing a common understanding of how each agency will work together to accomplish the project.

South St. Paul’s responsibilities will include participation and lead design, right-of-way acquisition, construction administration and public outreach. The city will enter into a joint powers agreement with MnDOT and pay the utility replacement and upgrade costs. 

A relatively new provision in the memorandum, Hartzell said, is the city entering into a partnership with the county to turnback jurisdiction over Thompson Avenue to the city. 

In turn, Dakota County would take back jurisdiction of Concord Street from I-494 to Grand Avenue. Hartzell added the city would consider having ownership of Grand north to Annapolis Street. 

Hartzell said MnDOT hasn’t contributed funds to Concord Street since 1964.

If the city works with MnDOT for a turnback arrangement, Hartzell said it will contribuite a “substantial” amount of money to the city’s vision to make Concord more of a city-county feeling road. 

Beyond that, he said chances are “slim to none” that MnDOT will provide funding for work on Concord Street beyond the current planned project.

Hartzell added if the city wants to control the development picture of Concord Street, it’s in its best interest to take back control of the roadway. 

 

Council questions

Council member Bill Flatley said everyone probably agrees there needs to be redevelopment in the Concord Street area, while noting that the project needs to be as mindful and creative as possible when it comes to parking. 

“I know that was a concern for a lot of business owners,” he said.  

Hartzell, who is leaving his position soon, said anyone who takes over will understand the commitment the city has to parking. 

Council member Lori Hansen said she likes the look of the project except for the section with dedicated right and left turn lanes by businesses.

The council approved the memorandum unanimously and Hartzell said the county and MnDOT should be signing on soon, as well. 

 

–Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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