Nearly $7M project now enters final design stage for 2024 reconstruction
Plans for reconstructing Grand Avenue between Snelling and Fairview avenues next year are one step closer to completion following a January 9 vote by the Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Transportation Committee. The vote ushered the project into its final design phase.
The city’s Department of Public Works will offer two opportunities to view the recommended design, ask staff questions, provide comments and learn more about the upcoming schedule for the project.
• An in-person open house will be held from noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 31, in Macalester College’s Davis Court, 1600 Grand Ave. People are invited to stop in anytime to view the project layout and ask questions. There will be no formal presentation.
• A virtual open house will follow from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday, February 1, with a short presentation at 5:30 p.m. The link will be available on meeting day at stpaul.gov/grandavenue.
First reconstruction in decades
The $6.69 million project has been discussed over the past several months with residents, businesses, Macalester College, Hidden River Middle School and the Macalester-Groveland Community Council. It will include new pavement, lighting, trees, sidewalks and underground utilities. It will be the first full reconstruction of that stretch of Grand in decades. The cost figure does not include reconstruction of the Grand-Snelling Intersection, which will be done and paid for by the Minnesota Department of Transportation since Snelling is a state highway.
No opposition has been raised to narrowing Grand from curb to curb from 56 to 48 feet. One lane of vehicular traffic in each direction would be retained, as would a left-turn lane between Macalester Street and Fairview. Most on-street parking would remain.
Boulevards and sidewalks would be widened, which is welcomed by pedestrians and businesses in the Mac Market area, many of which use the sidewalk for restaurant seating and display space.
Raised median with no center crossing
Most of the discussion on January 9 centered on pedestrian safety and the Macalester College median that extends from Snelling to Macalester Street. According to one count, that median sees as many as 4,624 pedestrians using the three crossings a day. At peak times, as many as 200 people an hour use just one of the crossings. The busiest times are at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
While the median provides a measure of safety for people crossing Grand, its current design has been criticized for not being accessible to people with disabilities.
Various reconstruction options for the median have been considered, including fewer crossing points. Raising the road surface to the top of the curb to create a “tabled crossing” also has been considered. The design is intended to calm traffic, but some say it could create issues for emergency vehicles and buses.
The median recommendation moving forward is to eliminate the center crossing and improve the western and eastern crossings with wider sidewalks, more signage and changes that meet the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The crossing points would be raised, and the redesigned median would continue to have 14-foot traffic lanes on either side.
Changes to other intersections
Corner bumpouts at Grand and Macalester Street will remain. The Grand-Cambridge intersection will have bumpouts on the northeast, southeast and southwest corners. A pedestrian island will be installed west of Cambridge where pedestrian counts near Hidden River (former Ramsey) show 405 crossings on school days.
Joe Widing, project manager for Public Works, outlined a proposal to have a long median between Cambridge and Wheeler streets, which was dropped. The Macalester-Groveland Community Council’s Transportation Committee said such a median could affect safety for bicyclists on Grand.
The Wheeler and Fairview intersections will also have new corner bumpouts to improve pedestrian safety.
Grand’s traffic volumes have actually decreased in recent years. The most recent average daily vehicle count was 6,882 in 2022, down from 7,779 in 2017. The number had been as high as 10,000-12,000 vehicles per day in the past.
For detailed sketches of the plans for reconstructing Grand, see stpaul.gov/grandavenue.
— Jane McClure
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