Pierce Butler, American jurist

Piercing Butler

The most famous Pierce Butler was a founding father and US Senator from South Carolina. An apparently unrelated Pierce Butler was the first Supreme Court justice from the state of Minnesota, who became a justice after earning his chops as a lawyer for the James J. Hill interests (Jane McClure writes about him on the web at Saint Paul Historical).

It is this second Pierce Butler (one of many) for whom the Pierce Butler route (map) in St. Paul is named. The Pierce Butler route runs south of the east-west railroad mainline through St. Paul, complementing Energy Park Drive to the north. It progresses from Transfer Road, home of the classic mid-late twentieth century future-to-be-restored Midway Amtrak station that served Twin Citizens for decades, below Snelling Avenue, terminating at Minnehaha Avenue just shy of Dale Street.

Pierce Butler, American jurist

Pierce Butler, American jurist

It serves primarily industrial land uses, with some abutting residential.

There is a plan to extend it eastward to connect with Pennsylvania Avenue, and thus I-35E (and onto Phalen Boulevard). Jane McClure wrote about the controversy in 2009 in “Fight over eastern extension of Pierce Butler Route continues,” as did Chris Havens in the similarly timed “Push to extend Pierce Butler could be costly for St. Paul.” Such a route would function as a “reliever” for roads like Minnehaha Avenue and University Avenue, attracting truck traffic off those roads. It would also induce more east-west trips.

As far as I can tell, this eastward extension has not been moved forward in six years.

There is a dream (I dare not call it a plan, since it doesn’t rise to that level of officialness) to extend it westward to connect with Granary Road in Minneapolis through the St. Anthony neighborhood. The concept is to run it along the Railroad tracks, on Capp Road, connect to or parallel Robbins Street through the Community Gardens on the north side of Robbins Street, under MN-280 to Granary Road.  On first blush from a transportation perspective, this seems a logical route. It doesn’t take any houses, it increases connectivity so traffic can be more dispersed, and gets “wandering” trucks off of more obviously residential streets.

The St. Anthony Park neighborhood opposes this. People garden in the local community gardens (though surely these gardens could be re-sited). Local politicians have said “Pierce Butler Route will not be extended into St. Anthony Park.” If politicians were perfect forecasters or highly powerful or unflinchingly ethically who were in office forever, we might take them at their word, however as community groups have long realized, fighting a line on a map is a “forever war.” Once it is built it is not easily unbuilt. But while still unbuilt, that is a more easily reversed decision.

Pierce Butler's Route

Pierce Butler’s Route


Yet, the western extension of Pierce Butler makes little sense from a freight distribution perspective. Granary Road/Pierce Butler would not interchange directly with Minnesota 280 in any case, the interchange spacings are too tight. Instead traffic would be routed north to Energy Park somehow (e.g. circling back to Raymond Avenue or across railroad tracks) or south to the intersection at Territorial Road, which they can do now (and could do better if Territorial were eventually extended to Transfer Road).

Going further west, Granary Road would run into Saint Anthony Main, bypassing Dinkytown, and not directly intersect with I-35W either, requiring local streets for the connection. While Saint Anthony Main is a lovely place, it is no longer a freight destination. None of which is to say a Granary Road for the circulation of vehicles in the neighborhoods of St. Anthony Park and the University of Minnesota wouldn’t be valuable, and better access to Saint Anthony Main from Saint Anthony Park in Saint Paul is not of itself a terrible idea, but not one justifiable from a freight perspective.

The industrial/distribution center neighborhood immediately to the east of St. Anthony Park (the West Midway Industrial Area) is still economically active. To extend Pierce Butler would likely require taking at least one building between Capp Road and Transfer Road (or skirting around it very circuitously). Building the Pierce Butler route to serve trucks by destroying one of the buildings the trucks serve is right out of an O Henry story: The Gift of the Magi.

16 thoughts on “Piercing Butler

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Having given this no thought beyond the time required to read this post and look at the map (hey, it’s the internet!), I don’t see the point in extending this either way.

    1. paddy

      Having given it a fair amount of thought prior to this, I agree with you. I don’t see the point.

      The east end might make sense from a logistics point of view, but I don’t see the benefits remotely justifying the costs.

      The west end extension is just stupid.

      Any money spent on Pierce Butler should be a) a stoplight at the south bound off ramp from Snelling and b) a bike lane (maybe even a protected one) especially a connector to the Lexington Bridge.

  2. David MarkleDavid Markle

    it seems that even the Granary Road plan (it is such, in contrast to any extension of Pierce Butler Route) still remains a dream.

    That said, a westward extension might require quite a significant amount of construction at the western end where Pierce Butler meets Terminal Road, merely one detail.

    Isn’t much of Pierce Butler now a designated bike route?

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang

      It’s a designated bicycle route (to nowhere) with an unprotected shoulder adjacent to 40-45mph truck heavy traffic with cars often queued up in that shoulder waiting to enter the Ramsey County yard waste facility. In other words, it’s not a very inviting designated bicycle route.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Yes, I biked it this summer during the great Cleveland Avenue debate, as I was assured that there were perfectly adequate existing alternatives.

        It was… scary. Big trucks flying by at high speeds and debris-strewn. Then I turned on the Prior for more of the same.

      2. Sean Ryan

        It should have been striped past year when it was repaved, but oddly wasn’t, with nary a peep from the city.

  3. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    I was hoping that the eastward expansion would help calm traffic and remove big trucks where Pierce Butler meets Minnehaha Ave. Trucks have to turn onto Minnehaha for about a block before going north or south on Dale Street or continuing to Como Ave on a wider Minnehaha. From Dale heading west, Minnehaha is more or less residential with one lane in either direction. East of day it is 3 lanes (center turn lane), until (I think) Western, but the lanes are a lot wider. The bike lane from Como to Dale was extended westward this summer to Lexington, but nothing was done with the intersection where Pierce Butler meets Minnehaha. The bike lane ends right where you need it most and then picks up again on the other side of Pierce Butler. However, there are probably lots of good ways of fixing this without extending Pierce Butler.

    There was a plan for a path from Pierce Butler to the new Lexington Parkway bike bridge and path, but it was killed in the CIB process last year.

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang

      For what it’s worth, the path from PB to Lex bridge doesn’t provide much value when I think about it. It’s currently fairly easy to make the connection using Dunlap and Hubbard and the trail would have to be quite long in order to make it up to the elevation of the Lex bridge at a reasonable grade so probably quite expensive.

      Maybe if PB connected to more destinations and/or was a high quality bike route with protected lanes (and thus more viable to more users) I would be less skeptical of that investment.

      1. Matty LangMatty Lang

        Thinking more about PBR connecting to more destinations. . .

        If the eastern extension was build and it included a high quality separated/protected bikeway it would be a valuable connection to the East side and the Bruce Vento trail. The separated/protected bikeway would need to continue along Pennsylvania which is a grade separated four lane divided highway so there’d be plenty of design challenges.

        As things currently stand there is not a desirable way to connect from Midway/Frogtown to the East side without detouring through downtown or well to the north.

        1. paddy

          Couple with a pedestrian/bike bridge over the tracks at Fairview that connects to the transit way/state fair

          Correct me if I’m wrong but the extension of the mid town greenway into St Paul might eventually use the railroad bridge over the Mississippi. The tracks eventually end up at Cleveland and 94. Cleveland->Transfer->PB.

          Would cost a ton of money but could get a ton of places and opposition might be minimal.

          1. Matty LangMatty Lang

            Yeah, if the Greenway extension ever happened the best connection would be at Prior so you could avoid the Cleveland–>Transfer part and go north to PBR.

  4. Mikey

    When the time comes to replace the bridge at the western end, in would probably be worth thinking about re-routing and connecting through that warehouse (or a portion of it) to Capp Rd, allowing for a more direct route to Vandalia and I-94

  5. Nick

    I’m pretty confident that the University is guarding the plug that is keeping the western extension’s life support on. No one else wants it, but the U won’t give up hope.

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