Crosstown environmental assessment gets mixed reviews

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) hosted an open house at the Mayflower Church, 106 E. Diamond Lake Rd., in late July that focused on the Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) for the I-35W/Crosstown reconstruction project.

The EAW is a large document that measures a project's potential impact on pollution, including air and water quality and noise. To comply with federal law, MnDOT must host a meeting to notify residents and obtain public input.

Some attendees were upset with the meeting format: stations set up to explain the project and a court reporter in a corner who recorded public comment when approached. Attendees could also submit comments in writing.

City Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward) and others criticized the format, arguing that a sit-down presentation and group discussion would be better. "This is a sham and a mockery," Benson said. "This is not a public hearing. I can't believe they can comply."

John Griffith, MnDOT project manager said the format is acceptable, just a different way of doing things. He said the open house is set up to answer individual questions.

The project would reconstruct all Crosstown lanes and increase highway width from six to 13 lanes in some areas. The plan includes extending high-occupancy vehicle lanes north to 42nd Street, and adding a bus rapid transit station at 46th Street. Westbound Crosstown access would also be added at Lyndale Avenue in Windom.

The project would take five Southwest homes and one business building, Peter's Billiards, 6150 Lyndale Ave. S.

Although the EAW mentions a few instances of projected land contamination and a slight noise increase, presenters at the open house describe the impacts as minimal. An increase in water runoff will require wetland mitigation -- possibly more retention ponds and a renovation of the Southwest storm water tunnel running under I-35W (above story).

The gathering had a mix of those for and against the project. Jon Ulrich, a Scott County Commissioner representing cities such as Savage and Shakopee, came to Southwest to show support for the project because it relieves congestion and helps commuters get through safely.

However, Nancy Isaacson, a Diamond Lake neighborhood resident, said city folks shouldn't be forced to suffer for commuters, enduring the noise and pollution of more cars. She said people should cut their commutes to solve congestion problem themselves.

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) took issue with the EAW itself, saying it is "inadequate." He noted his technical disagreements in the air quality projections, referencing an Environmental Protection Agency study on the matter. In a letter, a City Attorney also criticized the EAW.

Kenny resident Ron Frisk said the project would help traffic flow, which he described now as "horrible." He did say that he is concerned about increased noise and he's placing his faith in MnDOT to make good on promises of sound mitigation.

The City Council will take the environmental data into account when making its decision on to grant municipal consent; a vote is expected Friday, Sept. 3.

The Crosstown project's EAW can be viewed at projects.dot.state.mn.us/crosstown.