Mpls. neighbors fight proposed 35W expansion

8:01 PM, Nov 19, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS  - Homeowners in Minneapolis' Historic Healy District have organized a visible campaign to fight a proposed 35W transit project.

The proposal could include a freeway expansion near the intersection of 35W and Lake Street.

"We already have a freeway in our front yard already, we don't need it in our bedroom window," said homeowner David Piehl, who lives in a Healy home.

Signs lining the historic block read "Save our Homes, Stop Freeway Expansion" and point passersby to a website -- stop35W.org.

"Our investment here is in danger. Not only monetary, but people have a connection with these houses. It's a crazy magical romance we have with these houses," said Corrine Zala, an owner of a home at the corner of Lake and Second Avenue, built in 1888.

Hennepin County and MnDOT have partnered on a $150 million project that would bring a bus rapid transit station to the intersection of 35W and Lake Street. The transit station could serve 100 buses an hour at peak times and could help energize the Lake Street business corridor, according to Hennepin County Engineer Jim Grube.

A plan to improve 35W at Lake Street began nearly two decades ago, but was tabled in the late 1990s due to neighborhood opposition and growing costs, which was an estimated $450 million back then.

Grube said the current plan would add two exits, from 35W North to 28th St, and at 35W South to Lake Street. At the same time, MnDOT will replace two bridges, the 35W Braid Bridge and 35W Flyover Bridge, which must be replaced by 2018. Lastly, the project will connect Lake Street to the Midtown Greenway, in what will be known as the Green Crescent.

Grube also said the project will add managed lanes to handle buses and HOVs, which could widen the freeway.

Homeowners say they've learned specifically, the widening will encroach 30 feet on the embankment across from their homes. They also worry heavy construction will damage aging homes.

"Vibrations, even know when trucks go by my chandeliers rattle," said Zala. "The foundations, stained glass, the wood in the house will be damaged by that."

Grube said he hears homeowners complaints "loud and clear" and stressed he will do his best to mitigate their true concerns. He said he also must balance the needs and values of the region and neighborhood.

"When you see a footprint starting to get larger and the people wanting a freeway to stay away from them, you ask what can we compromise and where to serve the region and protect the people, compromise is the secret," said Grube.

"To us, compromise it is not a foot closer," said Piehl. "I think there is a balance between noise, pollution and livability and we are kind of at the point right now if the freeway comes closer to us, that balance gets tipped and it is no longer livable."

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin stepped into the debate Tuesday to add his opposition to the freeway expansion. He said the county and city came to an agreement on a design with minimal impact on the neighborhood, but federal government later stepped in to mandate widening.

"I thought we worked through this long and hard to eliminate effects on history Healy block and out of blue after county and city approved it, we learned the road had to be expended by 30 feet, from the Federal Highway Administration -- which controls standards," said McLaughlin. "(They) threw a monkey wrench in it and I'm not happy. This is unacceptable."

Healy homeowners say 14 of the houses have National Register historic designation and 25 of them have local historic designation.

Grube said the design process ramps up in 2014 with project bids beginning in 2017. He said project leaders will continue to work with concerned homeowners in the Healy District and across the Central, Whittier, Lyndale and Phillips West neighborhoods.

Read more about the project here.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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