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The Road Too Travelled?
By Mary Losure
November 4, 1999
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People in cities nationwide are debating the issue of urban sprawl. Some argue the way to ease traffic congestion is to build highways. Others say more and highways are destroying neighborhoods, and it's time to try something new.

In Saint Paul, city neighborhoods west of the state Capitol are faced with a choice that reflects that larger debate. Saint Paul city planners want to make a stretch of highway, known as Ayd Mill Road, into a connection to the regional freeway system. A group called Neighborhoods First! wants to dig up the road and turn it into a park.

See a slide showabout Ayd Mill Road, including proposals for its use.
PEOPLE NEAR Ayd Mill Road have fought the idea of building a freeway connection through their neighborhoods for more than 30 years. Ayd Mill Road was originally planned in the 1950s as a link to the regional freeway system, but never completed. Neighborhood residents worried it would bring noise and pollution. Today, Ayd Mill Road looks like a freeway; it has on- and off-ramps and typical green exit signs, but it's only a mile-and-a-half long. It begins and ends on city streets. But the plan to hook it up with the freeway system never died.
Cline: Connecting Ayd Mill Road as a four-lane connection between the freeways would be a culmination of some ideas hatched about 40 or 50 years ago.
Michael Cline is a member of Neighborhoods First!, a group he began a little more than two years ago to try to push for a park, rather than a connection between two freeways.
Cline: We have an opportunity now to make a very important decision, that imagine, 30, 40, 50 years down the road, are we going to be glad that there was finally that smooth connection from 35E to 94? Or are we going to be glad that we chose not to do that with this space, and instead build toward a different future, which has a beautiful 40 acre park accessible to more than 10,000 people within 4 blocks?
Ayd Mill Road runs through what was once a picturesque valley. It had a stream, and a grist mill that gave the road its name. Both are gone now. The valley is still largely brushy, open area, with train tracks and the four-lane highway on its floor. Park supporters say if the highway were removed, the area - and perhaps even the stream - could be restored. Neighborhoods First! members like Jean Madden say such open space is sorely needed.
Madden: It's a really substantial park space that's within walking or biking distance of my home , otherwise I have to get in my car and drive to something like Crosby Park. It would give you a really nice quiet space to walk or ride a bike, rather than having to navigate really congested city streets. For this end of the city, it would be just such a needed amenity.
But Planning Commission Steve Gordon disagrees.
Gordon: If you took up the road and replaced it with a park, the road might go away, but the traffic doesn't go away. And approximately 10,000 cars a day that now use Ayd Mill Road would then come up on residential city streets. It would be very unfortunate to inflict those kinds of traffic levels on city residential streets.
Many of the city streets around Ayd Mill Road are already clogged with traffic getting from one freeway system to the other. Gordon says connecting Ayd Mill Road to the freeway system will draw the traffic onto Ayd Mill, and provide relief for neighborhood residents.

Many local businesses also support the connection. Ellen Watters is executive director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce. The chamber represents about 450 St. Paul businesses in the area north of Ayd Mill Road. She says some 50,000 people work in the midway district, and they need good freeway connections.
Watters: Fifty-thousand jobs, that's a significant number, it's second only to downtown St. Paul, in the St. Paul area. So this is a huge job center, and it's important that we be able to get workers to these jobs.
Park supporters argue that more roads only bring more traffic and that the long term solution to traffic congestion is mass transit.

This summer a citizen's task force voted in favor of the park, but the city's planning commission disagreed. The planning commission voted last month in favor of the freeway connection. The city council is scheduled to vote on the issue December 3.