ST. PAUL, Minn. - It's a sure sign of springtime in St Paul. State lawmakers are once again especially bothered by a slow stretch of Interstate I-35E, and feeling the need for speed there.
"It's the idea that we frankly built a speed trap there in my mind," Sen. David Senjem of Rochester told KARE.
"I'm not sure that's fair to the general public as well. We've got a freeway made to go much faster than 45 miles an hour."
That 45 mph zone of I-35E runs for four miles, between downtown St. Paul to where the highway crosses the Mississippi River near Shepherd Road.
Over the years many lawmakers have tried to ramp it up to 55, but have failed. When Sen. Dan Hall of Burnsville tried it this week his idea was rejected again by his colleagues.
But Sen. Senjem took a different approach.
Senjem successfully tacked on an amendment to the transportation bill that would simply instruct the courts to go easier on those caught speeding in that segment of the interstate.
"We just again wanted to put a crinkle in this thing that we had to had to have this thing at 45 miles an hour forever more."
Under Senjem's amendment those pulled over and ticketed for going between 46 mph and 55 mph would still have to pay the fines, but the ticket would not go on their DPS driving records. Those infractions wouldn't be shared with insurance companies.
"It would seem to me we'd have the right to do that," Senjem explained. "I don't think we've interrupted anything that is federally mandated."
Neighborhood resident Karen Avaloz said the idea, on its most basic level, sounds as though state lawmakers are encouraging people to break the speed limit. And yet they would leave the fines in place to appease agencies that rely on the revenue.
"That sounds like a payoff situation or something," Avaloz remarked. "It doesn't strike me as me as being very above board."
Avaloz moved to that part of St. Paul 43 years ago, long before the interstate was even on the drawing board. She was part of a community organization known as Residents In Protest 35E, which fought the freeway for 15 years.
Avaloz herself was one of the parties to a lawsuit against MnDOT and the US Dept. of Transportation.
"The little people rose up, organized and used their democratic rights," she said. "And we won the right, the rights we felt we'd had as people living in the city. We won a set of promises."
In 1984 all the parties reached an out of court settlement, which allowing the construction of 35E. But it would have to look more like a parkway, with plantings in the dividers.
"That the speed limit, which was the most important thing, would be kept at a minimum of 45 for noise abatement" Avaloz recalled.
"And the commercial traffic, the big trucks, could not use that Parkway section, for noise and for air quality here."
Avaloz has become accustomed to watching the legislators up the road at the State Capitol take swings at the slow zone.
"I don't understand why this four miles of inner city road is so important to them. I don't know how it affects the senators who are from other places out in Minnesota."
The St. Paul delegation in the legislature backs the neighborhood, and is familiar with the history of the area.
"I want to be able to honor the agreement between the State and my communities," Rep. Carlos Mariani of St. Paul told KARE.
"Otherwise, why would communities ever settle with the state?"
Mariani said that lawmakers have sought advice from legal staff on the slow zone in the past, and been told any variation from the 1984 agreement approved by a federal judge could unravel that pact.
"We've been told if you do anything to make it more like a full-fledged interstate you open up the strong possibility that you'll have commercial traffic," he explained. "Those companies would could argue, justifiably, 'Hey this is a regular highway and I can send my trucks down here'."
The House version of the transportation bill has no such provision, so the Senate would have to convince the House to go along with the idea.
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