West St. Paul juggles Robert Street project funding

Robert Street in West St. Paul is slated for a $26.8 million reconstruction. The city initiated the project to revamp the busy state-owned roadway, and has been negotiating the finances with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

MnDOT says $12.2 million turnback offer stands

West St. Paul city staff plans to recommend that the city council turn down an offer to take control of South Robert Street from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, as well as the funding to reconstruct the road the state offered in exchange.

West St. Paul initiated the idea this year. MnDOT said in a March 14 letter it would contribute $10 million to the street’s reconstruction and an additional $2.2 million, if the city took over its upkeep from the state.

But that’s not enough to justify taking on long-term maintenance of the street, according to City Manager Matt Fulton.

‘Not adequate’

The council recently directed staff to ask MnDOT for more funds. City staff and MnDOT representatives met April 10, but the state agency said it simply couldn’t afford more than it’s already offered.

“The funding stream is simply not adequate,” Fulton said. “They were upfront and honest with us. I certainly respect that.”

Fulton said the city wanted the state to contribute $23.5 million of the $26.8 million project before the city took over the road.

“Based on the current level of funding, I would recommend to the council that they would not accept jurisdictional responsibility,” Fulton said. “It just wasn’t enough funding for us to justify assuming jurisdictional responsibility.”

MnDOT: driving, not aesthetics

MnDOT feels its contribution would be fair, as many of the elements of the project are in the interest of the city, but don’t align with state priorities, according to Sheila Kauppi, the metro district south area manager.

Kauppi said MnDOT is focused on making its roads safe to drive on, not beautifying them.

MnDOT’s metro district engineer Scott McBride said in the letter last month that the Robert Street reconstruction is “beyond a scope that meets MnDOT performance targets.”

“(We’re) primarily focused on just preservation -- hold together the road as best we can for the limited amount of dollars we have,” Kauppi said.

It’s up to the council to accept or reject the turnback deal.

If the council decides to turn it down, MnDOT would still pay $10 million of the project, taking into account in-kind services, such as construction administration, Kauppi said.

Big project gets bigger

Not only is Robert Street the largest public works project in West St. Paul’s history, it’s recently grown even larger.

In December, city staff learned the total estimated cost for the renovation was increasing from the $16.4 million mark established in July 2012, which was already an increase from previous iterations, to $20.8 million.

Requests from MnDOT and the county, such as a $310,000 fiber-optic system linking the 11 traffic lights along Robert Street and a $230,000 median on Wentworth Avenue, contributed to the swelling budget.

In January, the city council reviewed a request for another $250,000 in payments to SRF Consulting to cover additional design work.

Fulton said the project is now projected at about $26.8 million. That includes the cost of construction and of acquiring easements.

He said the city will go out for construction bids this fall.

A $7 million grant awarded by the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Advisory Board will help pay for the Robert Street improvements from Mendota Road to Annapolis Street.

Improvements include upgrading curbs and pavement, adding a raised and landscaped median and turn lanes, and replacing street lighting.

Fulton said the project will be completed in two phases: first reconstructing the road, and then adding streetscape amenities.

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

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