Neighbors looking to curb blight along 35W sound walls

Kingfield residents and City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) have pushed MnDOT to develop a landscaping plan

KINGFIELD — The neighborhood’s concerns rose with the walls.

As soon as the massive sound barriers went up this spring along Stevens Avenue between 38th and 42nd Streets as part of the I-35W Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) project, graffiti surfaced and the neighborhood association started hearing about it. And there was something else about the walls that just didn’t seem right.

“We started hearing from neighbors that this is really ugly, this is really gross,” said Sarah Linnes-Robinson, executive director of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA). “So we started looking at walls the whole length of the project and wondering why the walls down at 54th were so much nicer than the walls up here.”

City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward) noticed, too, and started questioning the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) about the disparity.

What she and the neighbors learned was that the UPA project, which spans 42nd Street to Downtown, and the Crosstown Commons project, which stretches from 42nd Street south into Richfield, were budgeted differently. And while Crosstown included a landscaping budget, the UPA project did not.

So, Glidden, KFNA representatives, city staff and MnDOT got together to find a way to change that.

“Unless we were able to do something and have a more proactive way to address graffiti on this wall it would be a continual blight and a continual burden for the neighbors,” Glidden said.  

UPA project manager Nick Thompson said a basic landscaping plan that included the wall, grass and some trees was part of the project.

“But we decided to change that to a slightly larger and different plan that connects in better with the Crosstown project,” he said.

MnDOT budgeted about $100,000 for the new landscaping, which will also include the east side of 35W, Thompson said. The department is planning to host a community meeting in early September to discuss landscaping options. A date had not been set as of press time.

KFNA submitted suggestions earlier this summer. Linnes-Robinson said the organization favors a stepped design with small bushes or shrubs nearest the roadway and trees and vines further back. The suggested plantings were chosen with the harsh environment in mind, she said.

“We recommended salt tolerant, maintenance free plants that will spread and fill the area,” she said. “We’re looking for a diversity of species and heights that won’t create a monoculture there and will create some variety along that stretch, so its not just tree, tree, tree.”

The organization is also looking into the possibility of murals on the walls near neighborhood entrances, where graffiti has been most problematic.

Who will maintain the landscaping has yet to be determined. Residents can apply for a grant from MnDOT for plantings, but the upkeep is then the residents’ responsibility. Linnes-Robinson said the neighborhood is more interested in something that can take care of itself.

Glidden said she was working on securing a maintenance contract with MnDOT that would at least guarantee watering for the plantings’ first couple years. Her hope is that the area will fill in on its own after that, making the walls more appealing to residents and much less so to vandals with spray paint.  

“It’s all about Livability,” Glidden said. “There should be a certain standard of livability and having something attractive that’s by the sound wall is part of that.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.