Robert Street
Robert Street (shown here looking south from Ninth Street) is scheduled for a $9.25 million makeover between Kellogg Boulevard and I-94. Utility work will begin next year, with reconstruction in 2025-2026.

The busy section of Robert Street between Kellogg Boulevard and I-94 is slated for reconstruction in 2025-2026. The Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Transportation Committee got its first look at the project on January 9.

The upcoming work is believed to be the street’s first major reconstruction project in a century. Eight blocks will be rebuilt, with new pavement and lane markings, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, boulevards and trees, traffic signals, signage and underground utilities.

“Reconstruction will be building face to building face,” said Anna Potter, downtown transportation planner for the city’s Department of Public Works. One historic tidbit about the past reconstruction is that some building faces were cut off to allow for street widening years ago.

Comes with a $9.25 million price tag

The estimated cost of the reconstruction project is $9.25 million. Of that amount $2.25 million will come from the state, which is turning Robert Street back to the city. The remaining $7 million will come from the federal government.

Plans are currently in the concept design stage, which will continue until summer. Final design is to take place between June and December. Different traffic, transit and parking configurations are being studied.

Utility construction is to take place in 2024, with street reconstruction starting the following year.

The first round of public engagement took place last fall with surveys, stakeholder meetings and work by a steering committee. Potter said Public Works heard many questions and suggestions on the project from residents, property and business owners.


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Need for more landscaping

One strong desire is for more green space and trees, and ways to tie the Pedro Park development on 10th and Robert into any streetscape improvements. More cafe seating and retention of current seating between 9th and 10th streets also is sought, along with improved access to the downtown skyway system.

Pedestrian safety is another issue frequently raised, especially at the intersections at Robert-Kellogg and Robert-10th. Bumpouts and shorter pedestrian crossings are sought. Also heard were requests for wider sidewalks, restrooms and drinking fountains, improved street lighting, better bike parking, heated bus shelters and dedicated bus lanes.

Robert has 75 feet of right-of-way up to Fourth Street, with 90 feet between Fourth and Kellogg. The street currently has some parking on both sides, with restrictions. There is a drive lane in each direction and a center turn lane.

The upcoming work is believed to be the street’s first major reconstruction project in a century.

Less traffic now

Potter said that historically, traffic volumes along Robert have decreased from 14,700 vehicles per day in 2005 to 12,000 in 2022. Robert also has Metro Transit bus routes 68 and 71. In 2019 those routes carried an average of 1,543 people per day, but more transit ridership is likely in the future. 

Street reconstruction will have to be done in way that accommodates the Gold Line, a bus rapid transit corridor that would connect Woodbury and Washington County destinations to downtown Saint Paul, and the Purple Line, which would connect downtown to northeastern suburbs. Robert will also be home to service by the B Line and G Line buses when those start operating.

Bike lanes not included

Transportation Committee members asked why bike lanes could not be part of the project. Because nearby Jackson and Minnesota streets are part of the downtown Capital City Bikeway, Robert is not going to have bike facilities added. Cyclists can connect to those routes.

“It’s hard to fit everything in,” Potter said.

Public Works is also trying to coordinate the work on Robert with other streets, including 2022 Wabasha Street reconstruction, work starting this year on Minnesota Street, and work on the Kellogg-Third Street bridge that is also to start this year.

Dealing with “ancient” utilities

Another issue Public Works must decide is how to deal with is what Potter describes as “ancient” utilities that will have to be removed and replaced.

A big below-grade worry is that of areaways—spaces below sidewalks that provided access into building basements.  Areaways were often used for deliveries and to access basement spaces with equipment and furnishings. Such spaces have been allowed with building construction since the 1950s. Potter said it is possible current building owners may not know if areaways exist at their buildings.

— Jane McClure


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