Sign of the times: pro-35W Access Project group forms

"Be SMART" -- the battle cry for those supporting the I-35W Access Project -- will be the latest entry in the panoply of Minneapolis lawn signs.

A group calling itself SMART -- South Minneapolis Access for Residents and Transit -- formed in late March. Organizers said they were frustrated by public attention given to STRIDE, a group that formed last fall to oppose the access project.

Scott Persons, chair of SMART, said there seems to be a perception that many oppose the I-35W Access Project.

"We want to show folks there is another side," said Persons, a Lyndale resident and member of the I-35W Project Advisory Committee. SMART's work plan "is outreach to people we know who support the project and say, 'Hey, we really need your voice to get behind this.'"

SMART member Tom Roberts, owner of the Office Max mall at Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue, said he would donate the money to print 500 lawn signs and distribute them free to supporters. He estimated it would cost at least $500, he said.

The $150 million I-35W Access Project would overhaul freeway ramps between downtown and 38th Street. It includes adding two new ramps at Lake Street and the widening of Lake Street for several blocks to accommodate more traffic.

The plan has drawn strong opposition from some quarters. STRIDE -- Southside Traffic Reduction Initiative for Determining our Environment -- has opposed the plan, seeking a less costly design that would be friendlier to bikes, pedestrians and transit, its Web site (www.stride-mn.org) says.

SMART has 50 to 60 members, said Len Pryzbylski, a Kingfield resident and president of TriLite Stone Co., 3016 4th Ave. S. Members believe that improving freeway access at Lake Street will strengthen businesses, raise property values and improve the surrounding neighborhoods.

As one example, some SMART members said the Lake Street ramps would provide vital connections to help redevelop the dormant Sears site at Lake Street and Chicago Avenue.

STRIDE members argue that immigrant businesses are revitalizing Lake Street without the ramps.

SMART plans to organize one massive meeting with city councilmembers this summer to show them residents and business owners support the project, Roberts said. Pryzbylski referred to the meeting as the "Shock and Awe" approach.

The Council is expected to vote on the Access Project in August.

To get a lawn sign, call Myrtle Vikla at 823-4005. For more information on SMART, call Persons at 822-0089.