The University of Saint Thomas’ plan to build a new hockey and basketball arena on its south campus is prompting a new look at traffic safety on Cretin Avenue. The Union Park District Council (UPDC) board recommended on March 1 that the UPDC executive committee send a letter to the Saint Paul Department of Public Works asking it to consider reducing Cretin from four lanes to two with a center turn lane.

UST arena
An artist’s rendering of a full house of 4,000 fans at the University of Saint Thomas’ proposed hockey arena.

The $175 million Lee and Penny Anderson Arena would have 4,000 seats for hockey games, 5,000 seats for basketball games and 6,000 seats for large convocations such as commencements. If all goes as planned, the arena would open in the fall of 2025 just west of the 750-space Anderson Parking Ramp at Cretin and Grand avenues.

Cretin sees 50 car accidents per year

Cretin is already a safety concern for neighbors, logging more than 50 car accidents in a typical year along its stretch south of I-94. The traffic on Cretin before the COVID-19 pandemic was 15,100 vehicles a day north of Summit Avenue and more than 26,000 a day closer to I-94.

In addition to UST’s arena, traffic on Cretin could be affected by the ongoing development of the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Highland Park. The new Highland Bridge neighborhood is expected to have as many as 3,800 homes when it is fully built out in 10 years or so.

“We’re very concerned about traffic on Cretin over time,” said Mark Vangsgard, UST’s chief financial officer and vice president for business affairs.

The effect of Highland Bridge on Cretin traffic

Current Highland Bridge traffic studies indicate that with its full build-out, Cretin north of Summit could be carrying as many as 18,100 vehicles per day by 2040. That estimate does not take into account the effect that a new UST arena would have. Cretin’s capacity in 2040 has been estimated at 18,000 to 22,000 vehicles per day. However, those figures are being updated as part of a new Highland Bridge alternative urban areawide review (AUAR). 

Traffic and parking studies are also being conducted as part of an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for the new UST arena. The EAW will be used to assess projected impacts of the arena and potential solutions.

Four traffic lanes versus three

Earlier this year, members of the Macalester-Groveland Community Council’s Housing and Land Use Committee asked that on-street parking be removed on the east side of Cretin next to O’Shaughnessy Stadium between Summit and Selby avenues. Parking is allowed there outside of rush hours and causes bottlenecks at times. Removing the parking would give Cretin four lanes of traffic.

Amy McDonough, chief of staff for UST president Rob Vischer, said UST has already asked the city’s Department of Public Works to remove the on-street parking on Cretin. That request is opposed by members of the UPDC transportation committee, including Sean Ryan, who lives near the stadium. “I actually don’t think removing parking is going to help anything,” he said.

Union Park group advocates traffic calming

Ryan and others questioned if removing the parking would work against the recommendation of a recent UPDC study group to slow traffic on Cretin through a redesign aimed at reducing the number of traffic lanes. Vehicles exiting I-94 have been clocked on southbound Cretin at more than 50 mph.

In 2018 the Saint Paul City Council reduced the speed limit on Cretin from 35 to 30 mph. Since then, the speed limit on Cretin south of I-94 has been reduced to 25 mph.

One idea that has been raised is adding a median on Cretin. Dean Cummings, cochair of the UPDC land use committee, said the median on Marshall Avenue has slowed traffic between Snelling and Cleveland avenues, where Marshall was also reduced from four lanes to two with a center turn lane.

Any proposed changes to parking and traffic control on Cretin would be reviewed by the Union Park and Macalester-Groveland district councils and possibly the city’s Capital Improvement Budget Committee.

Spillover parking is another concern

The possibility of spillover parking from the UST arena has been a big concern in Macalester-Groveland, but not so much in Merriam Park. Members of the UPDC  transportation committee have credited UST for adequately handling parking during football games and other large events on the north campus, and they expect the univeristy ton do the same during hockey and basketball games on the south campus.

The parking lots on campus are largely open on weekends and used for football games. About 80 percent of the 2,700 campus parking spaces are also available after 6 p.m. on weekdays.

McDonough said UST is considering employing a shuttle service to transport fans from remote parking lots to the new arena. An effort may also be made to promote the use of mass transit by fans.

— Jane McClure


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