|[Rendering of one possible design for Ayd Mill Road, from the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition.]|
As someone who grew up next to Ayd Mill Road, and have been using it my entire life, I was thrilled to hear that Mayor Carter and the city’s Public Works Department are going to commit to reduce and reconfigure Ayd Mill Road when they repave it this year. I believe this decision reinforces and reaffirms many of the city’s values, puts Saint Paul in a better place fiscally, and will not create major traffic problems on Saint Paul’s streets.
For those reasons, I think you should support this decision.
First, a key criteria for deciding the future of Ayd Mill Road has to be costs versus benefits. Ayd Mill Road is a 100% city-owned street, and city taxpayers are on the hook for any long-term maintenance of this infrastructure. This makes it very different than other freeways or major traffic arterials, and for a sixty-year-old road with deteriorating surface conditions, we should think carefully about how best to spend precious city dollars.
As you know, the long-term maintenance picture for Saint Paul streets is a bleak one, and when opportunities arise to downsize overbuilt streets and roads, we should seize that chance. This unique street, a four-lane divided roadway that connects with walkable city streets on one end and a freeway on the other, is a the most obvious of these kinds of projects. Reducing the road’s footprint will save the city millions of dollars in both the long- and short-terms.
Second, I believe the traffic impacts will be minimal. A grade-separated two-lane road with few intersections can actually handle a lot of daily traffic, and in cases like these, reducing lanes affects speed more than overall volume. The problem with Ayd Mill Road has always been its intersections with the regular street grid, rather than any congestion problems on the road itself. I would encourage you to keep an open mind about how this transition might work out well for all parties involved.
Finally, this decision reflects our shared values, especially those in the draft Climate Action Plan. Facing the existential problem of climate change, the Climate Action Plan lays out the ambitious goal of reducing city vehicle miles traveled by 2.5% each year. If we hope to achieve meaningful action on climate change, reducing and reprioritizing space given to roadways is an absolutely necessary step.
Ayd Mill Road is a decades-long saga, the kind of “third rail” that few political leaders want to address. Debates over the road began in the 1940s and continued vehemently throughout many lifetimes of political leaders, neighbors, and advocates. In 2002, the decision to “connect” the road to 35E was done as a “test” by then-Mayor Kelley with very little public input. On the other hand, the most recent Council action was the 2009 vote to adopt the current proposed configuration.
This is to say that Mayor Carter’s bold action on Ayd Mill Road reflects a long-process of deliberation and indecision over the future of this valley. I am thrilled that, at long last, the City of Saint Paul will be taking steps to transform this polluting liability into a public space that reflects and amplifies our shared values.
Please support this process as it moves forward this fall.
Chair, Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission