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Spurred by a deadline linked to $1 million in federal money, Edina is tackling a pedestrian-friendly redesign of three forbidding France Avenue intersections.
The city wants to build safe, attractive and user-friendly pedestrian crossings at France and W. 66th, 70th and 76th streets. It's a big job. In places with turn lanes, the busy north-south road is seven lanes wide.
"We have a chance to come up with something extraordinarily special on a busy county roadway," Mayor Jim Hovland said at last week's City Council meeting. "We want to look at not only moving people safely and efficiently across a .... road, but want to look at all aspects that would enhance the environment out there."
The work would include wider median islands, accessible pedestrian signals and warning signs, sidewalks and redesigned corners. Southdale Shopping Center, the Galleria, the Southdale Library, Centennial Lakes Park and Three Rivers Park District trails are among nearby destinations.
After some debate, the council approved a $265,070 contract with WSB & Associates for project engineering services. To hang onto the $1 million federal grant, the city must have state and county approval for the plans by March 31, 2013.
Edina was awarded the federal transportation enhancement funds from the Metropolitan Council in 2007. Plans then were to use the money to build a $2.09 million pedestrian bridge over France Avenue near the crossing with W. 72nd Street, with the city matching the funding.
But over time, city officials began to have doubts that a single bridge was the best way to accommodate foot traffic on a street with blocks and blocks of businesses drawing pedestrians.
The city returned to the Met Council, arguing that three redesigned foot crossings would accomplish the same thing as a bridge. After three appeals, they got a year's extension on the funding.
The relatively rapid planning required to design and get approval for the project within a year was one reason City Engineer Wayne Houle recommended that the council hire Golden Valley-based WSB for the work. The firm already had done preliminary engineering and talked with Hennepin County and Metro Transit about the project, he said.
Hopes for good urban design
Two council members objected, saying the size and importance of the project warranted putting out a request for proposals so others could bid on the job and the city could scope out their ideas.
"This could be a catalyst for a lot of improvements in the Southdale area," said Josh Sprague. "I know time is of the essence, but I want to make sure we have a firm that understands the transportation element [and] urban design, too. I want this to be a groundbreaking project."
Joni Bennett agreed with Sprague. But Houle told the council that if the city wanted to keep the federal funds, it couldn't spare the weeks it would take to seek and evaluate additional bids.
That was enough to draw a unanimous vote from the council.
"We almost lost this money once and we had to scramble to get an extension," said Ann Swenson. "I don't want to put it in jeopardy."
Bennett agreed, but indicated to the WSB officials in the audience that city expectations are high.
"This is more than trees and shrubs and plantings. There really has to be a good urban design element to this," she said. "The field is changing, and design features are changing. I would hope in the final design for this that we would see those elements that are successfully being used elsewhere."
Project manager Chuck Rickart of WSB said he would bring urban design experts to talk to the council, perhaps in May.
Redoing the three intersections will cost an estimated $2 million, less than the pedestrian bridge if it were built today. If plans are approved by March 2013, construction would begin in June of that year and end in October.