Friday Photo – Here We Go Again

There’s a charming little patch of Queen Anne style houses on 2nd ave. and 31st st. in South Minneapolis. For awhile now there’s been a proliferation of yard signs there opposing a freeway expansion. If you’re wondering whether you’ve been transported back to 1965; nope, this is somehow currently happening.



This is what the neighborhood looked like in 1936:


(Photo from the Minnesota Historical Society)

It’s sad to think that further insult to this already besieged street is even a serious discussion. On the other hand, the damage has more or less been done, so a few extra feet of freeway breadth feels like a couple grains of salt in a gaping wound. You know things are already pretty bad when Google collects its streetview data for your street at night.

36 thoughts on “Friday Photo – Here We Go Again

  1. Alex

    From what I understand, these neighbors have yet to show that their homes are threatened. I believe MnDot proposes to shift the freeway lanes closer to the houses in order to accommodate the BRT station. So basically all that will be removed is the scrub trees and brush next to the freeway.

    1. David

      Really Alex? The BRT station is going in a block and a half north of there….the widening is coming from the fact that 6 or 7 years ago when MNDoT re-striped the freeway to add a lane, they used up their auxilliary lane and shoulders…now they want to add those back to bring the freeway over 30 feet closer to the homes. If it isn’t bad enough to have the freeway in the front yard…now it will be in the bedroom window. Noise levels, pollution levels, etc ALREADY exceed allowable limits. What sort of proof that bringing it closer will make that worse do you think is necessary? Btw, Peter McLaughlin who is behind the project has recently announced that he opposes the widening portion, which was inserted by the feds and does not need to be a part of the BRT station. It’s a classic trade where they push a popular project (BRT station) and insert unpopular things like widening into the same project, hoping nobody will notice. We have noticed.

      1. Alex

        I found the layout online, and it’s not as bad as you say:

        It will be no more than 30′ closer to the Healy homes, and will taper back to about 8′ closer at the south end of the block. They are adding an aux lane, but no shoulder. Most of the widening is in fact due to the BRT station, as it necessitates a 16′ access lane. Meanwhile, as Sean notes below, the retaining wall and sound wall will likely improve somewhat the noise and pollution issues.

        I agree though that this auxiliary lane is completely unnecessary for the 28th St exit. Are they really pretending that this exit’s queue is going to back up for a half mile? There should be no delay whatsoever at the exit, since they can easily give exiting traffic its own lane on 28th St. What organization is being done to fight this? I’d be happy to join in since this aux lane will probably be surreptitiously converted to a general lane, as MnDot is wont to do.

        If they killed the pointless aux lane and just added a 10′ shoulder, safety would be improved, there would be no danger of surreptitious widening, and most of the block would be no more than 2′ closer to 35W.

    2. DC

      Alex, your understanding is grossly mistaken: the neighbors and the City have produced quite a bit of evidence that these homes are threatened. Noise level monitoring (exceed the acceptable federal level), pollution monitoring (most polluted section of freeway in the state of Minnesota; exceeds acceptable federal levels), corroded iron railings and fittings (due to salt and freeway debris); cracked interior plaster, cracked and shifting foundations, compromised masonry, cracked window glass, audible interior rattling, all from the vibration of heavy trucks and traffic. And that’s with the freeway at it’s current width and location! Imagine it coming 35-70 feet closer! Those “scrub trees and brush next to the freeway” are all that stand between the resident’s houses and the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that travel 35W EACH DAY. That means REDUCED noise reduction and pollution control.

        1. David

          The homeowners in the affected area are determined to keep the freeway from getting any closer, and are trying to ensure that the project either does no further damage or possibly improves the situation.
          Is your comment about getting rid of 35W meant to marginalize their efforts by associating a nonsensical statement they did not say with their efforts? Not cool.

          1. Alex

            You and they are complaining about problems that already exist and have made no attempt to demonstrate that they will get worse. Not cool.

            1. David

              Proximity to the source of noise = more noise. Proximity to the source of vibrations = more vibrations. Proximity to source of salt spray and other chemicals = more of it hitting your house. Is this rocket science? The engineers at Hennepin Co and MNDot understand this, the argument has never been about “proof” it has been about how to accomodate given many demands for limited space.

              1. Alex

                Not rocket science, but seems to ignore the greater ability of wooden sound walls to reduce noise and salt/chemical spray as opposed to some scrubby brush. This is the sort of thing that MnDot routinely predicts and analyses, do you have any of those numbers?

                1. 21 year Healy District Resident

                  Alex, please stop trying to tell us that we would be much happier with a concrete wall in front of our houses, and the freeway on top of it. No, this is not a viable solution. The folks who live in these houses are decent, intelligent people including two PhD’s and three MBA’s, and a lot of other good knowledge and experience. I have lived in my home facing the freeway for 21 years, there are others who have been there longer and most of the rest 5-10 yrs. We unanimously agree that we do not want the freeway any closer than it already is. We endure the detrimental effects of the freeway and are well aware of the situation. We like the greenery that you dismiss as weeds; the greenery is a buffer, there used to be more but the freeway salt and pollution is hard on living things. We are working with Hennepin Co to come to an agreement, if no agreement is reached the homes may need to be moved to a more livable location but we’d rather keep them where they are. There are 14 National Register properties and a total of 25 historically designated properties (some only have local designation). I invite you to come stand on the sidewalk, hold a conversation with someone over the freeway noise, and just look at where the edge currently is, and where it was proposed to be. It is one of those situations that seems reasonable on paper because everything fits, but in reality is unlivable. And, it is correct that about 95% of the added space the freeway wants is to make up for shoulder space, etc that was lost when MNDoT re-striped with Bush Administration transit money. As was mentioned previously, if that configuration has worked for this many years, is there a need to change it or just a “want”?
                  The transit station itself is a major disappointment; scale does not fit the neighborhood and it does not connect with the Greenway; a very expensive station, especially given that it does not even achieve those goals. I believe the 28th St ramp is the driver of the entire project, Allina and Wells Fargo have been pushing for that for about 15 years now.

                  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                    @21 year Healy District Resident (I wish you would use your name) —
                    What is the neighborhood’s proposed alternative? Is there any option that works for the homes that still allows the Lake St transit station to be built?

                    The Stop35W website mentions only stopping the lane expansion (which would be replacing the shoulder lane with a full MnPASS lane). But I presume the majority of the width increase is due to the center transit station. Is that not right?

                    1. 21 year Healy District Resident

                      Sean, the only thing we are asking is that the freeway not move closer to us. The widening that is proposed in this part of the project area is for elements unrelated to the station, i.e. the station could be built without affecting us at all…MNDoT inserted items from their “wish list” for the area at the last minute, and now Peter McLaughlin, the city council, and our state reps are aligned with us in our demand that the freeway not be widened here. Whittier neighborhood correctly suggested that a policy of “no widening” be implemented from 42nd St to downtown given the adverse affects all along the stretch. Others have suggested reducing the speed limit along this part of the corridor as with 35E…politically difficult but then for much of the day the speed limit is irrelevant anyway due to traffic.
                      So in a nutshell, most options allow for no widening AND the station to be built. The required widening due to the station happens north of us. The station itself, btw, is much wider than it needs to be due to poor design choices (I am involved in the PAC process so very familiar with this), and as was mentioned it fails to connect with the Greenway which was supposed to have been a priority…ok it connects with a sidewalk, but that is not what was envisioned and is about the least that could be done.

                  2. Alex

                    Are you saying that sound barriers don’t reduce the noise and salt runoff from freeways? Did MnDot say that there would be no space on the 2nd Ave side for landscaping (it seems there will be 25-40′ along the Healy block for landscaping)? What do you mean when you say the scale of the transit station doesn’t fit the neighborhood? As I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t see the need for widening here except for the transit station, but understand that the transit station is far more important to satisfying the needs and responsibilities of the region than your collection of beautiful, historic, single-family homes (which will still be there regardless).

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Just to throw a hypothetical out there: why not help the homeowners rather than changing the freeway? The MAC is obligated to pay for new insulation and windows in areas significantly affected by airport noise. Could homeowners on this major freeway exit not receive some sort of assistance in this regard as well?

        It seems like buying new railings every so often, new windows, and a high-quality filtering HVAC system for these 10-20 homes would probably be a hell of a lot cheaper than any design changes to the freeway.

        1. Adam

          I agree – some MAC style abatement might be in order. On the other hand, design changes to the freeway might actually make it a cheaper freeway, depending on what changes are approved. The bulk of the budget is spent on the new transit station, and replacing the freeway bridges that cross the greenway, Lake St, and 31st. There is also about $3.5 million to replace the pedestrian bridge further north, I think around 26th St.

  2. Matt Steele

    It’s clear that:
    1. The section of 35W from Downtown to 42nd St needs a complete rebuild
    2. Lake/Greenway needs a station for the Orange Line
    3. Southbound 35W needs a HOT lane from Downtown to 42nd St

    I think those can all be accomplished within the existing ROW. The thing we should be rallying against is the northbound exit to 28th St. And even within those plans, I have yet to see any suggestion of property condemnation.

  3. David

    The needs of the BRT station and the freeway maintenance do not require expansion along the 3100 block of 2nd. Those elements were inserted by the feds to make up for space they used to add a lane when they re-striped. Either live without those elements (shoulder space and auxilliary lanes) or re-stripe to lose the added lane…the days of freeways dominating the urban transportation scene need to end. Urban freeway design needs to be compact, not the same design as in rural areas where space is available. Sad part is when the expansion proposal from the early 1990’s was defeated, the agreement was to pursue light rail in the corridor instead but that has not been pursued, and bridges being replaced in the corridor can’t support trains.

    MNDoT does one thing and they do it well, but they only do one thing. We need a new paradigm.

    1. Matt Steele

      We could re-stripe this, but we’d lose the transit advantage with the HOT lane ending at 42nd St. OR we could restripe the left-most general purpose lane to be HOT and have only 3 northbound general lanes in this stretch. That wouldn’t be the worst idea for you and me, but it would set us back quite a ways politically. The thought of taking away a regular lane for buses, even if it makes sense, would set us back quite a ways politically with the support we need for transit from suburban legislators.

      1. David

        I agree – ideally lose the regular lane…but probably not politically possible. On the other hand, they have gone 6+ yrs without the added shoulder space and auxilliary lanes with no apparent consequences. That arrangement was deemed safe enough when it was installed, why bother changing it?

          1. David

            There is a waiver process for the FHWA guidelines, they are in the process of navigating that now. This is the same process that was utilized in the re-striping.

  4. David

    I should add that a HUGE opportunity has been missed with the proposed station at Lake St…one of the original goals was for it to serve both the Greenway (potential site of future LRT, current site of bike transit) and 35W/Lake. The proposal fails miserably in that respect, it is situated right over Lake St and if people want to go to the Greenway there is a sidewalk that leads there…not exactly a quality connection. Better would have been to situate the station between the Greenway and Lake so it could seriously serve both, not just lipservice to the Greenway.

    Then again, the fact that less than 40 people per day use the existing Lake St station doesn’t exactly make the case for the proposed $60 to $80 million project…hopefully that number will increase over time.

  5. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    >> “On the other hand, the damage has more or less been done, so a few extra feet of freeway breadth feels like a couple grains of salt in a gaping wound.”

    When I saw the signs, that was pretty much my thought, too. I’m pretty sure all that would be happening would be removing the disheveled slope and building out 35W to the existing curbline on 2nd Ave.

    If done well, I expect it might look more like the Crosstown Commons now does in Richfield, which has relatively good sound and noise isolation, despite being an elevated freeway in that section. The blank/stamped concrete wall is obviously no substitute for neighbors across the street. But I think it’s better than a weed-covered slope.

    1. Adam

      The problem is having the freeway 35-70 feet closer. Freeways are a blight to the areas where they are located. Closer proximity = HUGE change to livability and the already deafening noise. The engineers do realize this now that people have protested, as does the political leadership. In an urban area, every foot matters. Urban freeways are least intrusive where they are below grade. This stretch was designed to be above grade because of the trains that used to use the greenway…maybe a better solution for all involved, albeit expensive, is to go below grade.

        1. David

          I have an email from Hennepin Co Engineer Jim Grube that confirms and details the elements contributing to the widening. Worst case scenario was about 50 ft on each side, best case scenario as of a month ago was 30 feet on each side. They have been working diligently to reduce that since November given that Hennepin Co and the City of Minneapolis political leadership are aligned in their opposition to widening. Prior to the opposition to widening mounted by the Historic Healy District, NONE of the plans showed less than 30 ft of widening in that portion of the roadway.
          At Lake St it will be curb to curb, from 2nd Ave to Stevens Ave, ridiculously wide creating a cave that will be unsafe.

    2. David

      As bad as MNDoT is about maintaining their slope, it is preferable to a concrete wall and a noise wall…the greenery on the slope makes a huge difference in noise levels, it is noticeably noisier during the winter. Hennepin Co is planning a summertime noise test to compare to their wintertime measurements to validate. And, looking at green leaves is preferable to concrete and wood.

      What should happen is to combine this ramp with the proposed 28th st ramp by having the 28th st ramp circle back to Lake St on 4th Ave. The “fight” between the 35th st on-ramp and the 31st st off-ramp would be eliminated that way, sometimes it is dangerous. Recordings have been made to document the unsafe conditions.

  6. Adam

    I think the livability of those homes is already so terribly impacted that they are only marginally livable…if the freeway has to come closer, then the homes should be moved to new locations as part of the project. But why are we giving up so much for a freeway that doesn’t really benefit city residents anyway?

  7. Brian Finstad

    I’ve read where folks say “It is not as bad as you say” and refer to the embankment as just “scrub brush.” I want to point out that the perspective might be different for those who actually live there. These residents already have given enough and absorb enough for everyone else’s benefit. If they want to hang onto having some greenscape to look at, I think that is quite understandable. And it can be done. To them, it is not “scrub.” Some of those plantings were part of a block initiative a decade or more ago. Where you see scrub, I know there are lilacs that Marjory planted. And 30 feet is no small deal. When you are talking about literally one of the heaviest traffic loads and most polluted stretches of freeway in the state, every foot closer matters.

    I used to live on the corner of 31st and 2nd. It would probably surprise people to know that these houses are a solid stretch of residents that are very tight knit and a true community. Unlike most urban blocks, it is very much like a small town in which residents know the history of the block and characters who lived there going back 100+ years. They get gather for events and causes and pass on oral history of the neighborhood from generation to generation. That is very unique in a today’s urban environments that are often very distressed and transient. You have to have some grit and character to live in such a place – these folks hands down are the coolest group of neighbors I’ve had of anywhere I have ever lived . They tongue in cheek refer to 35W as “Living on the urban river.”

    I’ve also read where it is questioned “Well, what are you going to do?” as if the premise is that the residents are being passive disempowered about what is happening here. In reality, the PAC representative (David) was savvy enough to call out what was very slickly trying to get slipped past folks, major political support for the residents has been rallied (significant politicians have come out in support of these residents), the issue has been on local network news, and the residents held a very successful and well attended historic walking tour to educate the public about this block and why it matters. Not to mention the signs they made which grabbed attention that resulted in this blog post to begin with. A lot has and is being done. They are well organized, savvy, making major headway in influencing changes in the plans regarding this expansion.

    This is not a block that is somehow marginalized and too far gone. This isn’t some isolated strip that is a remnant of “what was.” Right NOW it is a vibrant, dynamic urban community. It might be easy to whizz past and not give much thought to the life that is occurring down there, so I thought I’d give a glimpse of one former resident’s impressions of 2nd Avenue S. It is way cooler than most other neighborhoods will ever be.

      1. Brian Finstad

        Bill, if you’d like to tell the story, I’d love to give you a tour and have you meet the neighbors.

    1. 21 year Healy District Resident

      Brian is correct. And, I should add that the greenery that Alex dismisses as “weeds” used to look a whole lot better, but probably about 6 or 7 years ago MNDoT sent in a crew to thin and trim it. I don’t know what they were trying to achieve, but they took 2/3 of what was there and made a mess of what is left. The Honeylocust trees still look great though.

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