Neighborhood fights delay of Nicollet rebuild

City moves Nicollet reconstruction from 2013 to 2014; community members say street needs attention sooner

Tom Kilton hears the racket of traffic on Nicollet Avenue every day from his office on the 3400 block of the street.

Cars and trucks bang into potholes, clank over cracks and rumble along asphalt patches scattered throughout the weathered roadway.  

“I’m not looking forward to the construction, but the sooner the better,” said Kilton, a State Farm insurance agent. “I don’t know that there’s a worse street in the city.”

The Public Works department says there are — lots of them. Enough to push the Nicollet rebuild from 2013, where it was scheduled for the past couple years, to 2014. The Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) is trying to reverse the move and is worried the construction is being tied to projects with unknown timelines, such as the reunification of Nicollet Avenue at the Kmart site north of Lake Street, a Southwest Light Rail Transit line and I-35W access ramps.  

“We think it’s really important that these issues get separated and we don’t sit and wait,” said LNA Executive Director Mark Hinds. “I would like a really good explanation for why the street hasn’t been repaved since [President Jimmy] Carter was in office.”

Nicollet is a city street and a state-designated truck route (it can withstand nine-ton vehicles) built in 1954. Average daily traffic counts done in 2007 were between 6,800 and 9,400.

Despite its relatively heavy use, the street has been repaved once in its lifetime — in 1977. By the city’s standard of a new coat of asphalt every 10 years, Nicollet is decades overdue for fresh pavement, and it shows.

In 2007, Public Works rated the road a 31 on a 100-point scale, placing it in the “very poor” category, requiring a total rebuild. But it’s not the only street needing attention, said Minneapolis paving engineer Larry Matsumoto.

“The facts of life are that we have a huge amount of candidates that are in the same condition as Nicollet,” he said.

The cash flow for roadwork isn’t what it used to be, Matsumoto said, with state contributions from gas taxes, license fees and other vehicle-related expenses drying up due to less driving and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The city can afford to rebuild about a half-mile of road each year, he said. Much of that work gets tied to priority projects, such as the new Twins ballpark or Crosstown, he said.

“Which again further reduces the amount of money that we have for the Nicollets of the world,” he said.

Matsumoto couldn’t comment on specifically why Nicollet was bumped, but he said Public Works is making difficult decisions these days about what roadways to repair on a tightening budget, and it’s behind.

“This is just the fact of life that city dollars just don’t stretch as far as they used to,” he said.

In today’s dollars, Matsumoto said, rebuilding Nicollet would cost $5.9 million.

Such a major project requires careful planning, not just of the roadway, but also of the surrounding area, said City Council Member Ralph Remington, 10th Ward. He said he understands the frustration of community members, but so much change is being proposed in the corridor that it could be a financial blunder to redo the road, only to possibly change it again in a couple years.

“All I can say is, it’s better to be in the plan than off the table,” Remington said.

The plan he referred to is the city’s five-year capital improvement plan. The city’s Capital and Long Range Improvement Committee (CLIC) prioritizes projects in the plan each year based on information from city staff. CLIC’s recommendations go to the mayor and City Council.

CLIC won’t submit this year’s recommendations officially until July of this year, but so far Nicollet reconstruction is slated for 2014, where staff have it scheduled.

Matsumoto said moving the project to an earlier date is unlikely, despite neighborhood efforts.

“Unfortunately, we have some real hard commitments on monies to be expended in the immediate timeline,” he said. “So I would say the opportunity to move them up would be very challenging.”

But that’s not deterring LNA, which sent a letter in May to the city expressing its concerns. The organization is now working on getting a feel for how hard the community wants to push the issue.    

“Right now we’re just seeing how much people want to get involved,” Hinds said.

The issue was brought up at a recent business association meeting, where those in attendance were supportive of getting the project done as soon as possible.

Cameron Cook, owner of Fresh Cuts Barbershop near 32nd Street and Nicollet, said after the meeting that his shop is often abuzz with complaints about the street.

“It’s crazy over there… I would think Nicollet would be one of the first streets they’d do,” he said.

Hinds said rebuilding Nicollet would do more than improve driving — it would offer an opportunity to transform the corridor and create a more vibrant community.

“Is this forgotten part of Nicollet supposed to stay forgotten until something finally happens there? I don’t think so,” he said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]