Stop sign in sight for Lake Boulevard road construction


Construction materials sit in a neighbor’s yard near Silver Lake. The project is set to wrap up this fall and be completely done in 2020. (Amy Felegy/Review)

Lake Boulevard has been under construction for the past two summers. Residents are expressing concern over the length and burden of the project in their front yards and driveways. (Amy Felegy photos/Review)

Heavy rainfall was one factor in slowing down the project’s process. A large puddle sat on Lake Boulevard on Aug. 20.

The city, construction managers and residents agree: Residential road construction is frustrating. But it won’t be much longer for those living near Silver Lake.

The $6.5 million Street & Utility Improvement Project covers Lake Boulevard, East Poplar Avenue, Swan Avenue, 19th Avenue, 20th Avenue and Park Row.

The project is well into its second year, raising concerns from area residents, and understanding from North St. Paul city officials.

“I know residents are kind of at their wits end with it. We feel your pain and we’re working with everyone to try to get through this,” said City Manager Scott Duddeck. “We’re hopefully on the homeward stretch.”

Homeowners near the lower portion of Silver Lake, located near the 2600 block of 19th Avenue, say they’ve been temporarily unable to use their driveways, mailboxes, security systems and landline phones amid the lengthy road construction project. 

Originally planned to last just a year, the project was split into two separate contracts, said Morgan Dawley with design and consulting firm WSB. The first contract fixed underground utilities like water and sewer. Up next is building the streets, set to be mostly complete by October. 

A handful of finishing touches, like a last layer of paving and miscellaneous, minor restoration along the streets, is to be completed in 2020, Dawley said.

Residents said the first phase came with an excess of problems — from car damage to annoyances like loud pounding from construction machines — and hope the second phase brings relief.

“It just keeps going on and on and on,” said Karen Norgard, who has lived in her Lake Boulevard house for 15 years. 

She said her car’s tire burst from the under-construction road, putting her out more than $800. Since she didn’t take a picture of it, she said the construction company wouldn’t reimburse the cash.

Others agree the construction is more than just a minor inconvenience. Julie and Dave Jungkunz have lived on Lake Boulevard for nine years. Dave said he understands the realities of construction since he has a career background in construction management, but he still isn’t happy with some aspects of the roadwork.

“Construction is construction,” he said. “But this whole project has been plagued, probably, by poor communications.”

Dave said he and his wife were on vacation when they received an email from project managers. It informed them that in two days they wouldn’t be able to use their driveway for a week.

“I think people needed more than 48- or 24-hours notice that you couldn’t get in and out of your driveway,” Julie said. “And if you’re on vacation when you get that email, and you’re not going to be home for a week, what are you going to do? You’ve got cars parked in your driveway or in your garage.”

Both said better communication would be immensely helpful.

Project managers have listened to the public’s concerns, neighbors said, and Dayley said management is looking for a communication system that’s “a little more robust.”

“We are working right now on kind of an enhanced communication,” he said.

Others say the construction hasn’t been all that bad, in hindsight. One couple has lived on 19th Avenue near Silver Lake for over 25 years. They said it is time for a streetwide upgrade.

“I don’t remember ever having [road construction], so in 25 years, everything was old,” one of the homeowners said. 

“So now we’re getting a new street, new curbs, new trees. I mean, it’ll be nice,” she added, asking to be unnamed to avoid more neighborhood controversy over the project.

She did note trucks are sometimes out late at night making noise, but the workers have been responsive to her requests to keep the noise down during those hours.

 

Save the trees?

At a recent city council meeting, Dawley said increased rain and narrow streets sure didn’t shorten the project, while another complicating aspect was finding a way to minimize tree loss. 

Talk of new trees created worry among neighbors hoping to save trees from being uprooted for line work. Construction planning initially looked to take out trees in the area, something some residents disapproved of. People in the community formed a committee last year, neighbors say, working with the city council to reduce the number of uprooted trees. 

A letter from project managers sent to area residents in April 2019 said each removed tree would be replaced with two new ones. But for some residents, that wasn’t enough of a solution.

“You look at these trees, like this maple right here. That’s a 50-year-old tree,” Dave Jungkunz said. “They’re going to [replace] it with a 5- or 6-year-old tree that’s maybe an inch in diameter?”

Dawley said discussions and community feedback about trees was hopefully valuable for the neighbors near Lake Boulevard, and though that process was lengthy, it was an important compromise for everyone involved. Overall, fewer trees were taken out than originally planned.

“They listen to the neighbors,” Dave said of the construction managers and the city. “They came to some resolution [that] we weren’t going to lose all the trees out of here, because it would’ve been barren.”

 

A tough process

Dawley said he went in knowing the project would be difficult.

“I remember using the words, ‘I cannot candy-coat this, the construction is tough,’” he said. “I can completely sympathize with all the residents and what they’ve been going through for the last two summers.”

Some neighbors, too, are sympathetic to the construction process, but they’re mostly just ready for the whole thing to be complete.

“It’s just frustrating,” Julie Jungkunz said. “It feels like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Project managers say the first phase is ending and the second phase is starting, which puts more workers on the roads, making it appear chaotic. Dawley said six crews are currently working, and as of now, the project is on schedule.

“It takes a lot of coordination. There are a lot of people ... really dedicated to making this work,” he said.

Another layer to the project’s difficulties is mailboxes. Currently, the street has a temporary mass-mailbox cluster to replace homes’ individual boxes. Resident Norgard said the cluster of boxes is a mile from her home.

Amid concerns of mail and package theft, the temporary mailboxes were moved to Margaret Street North and 18th Avenue East. It’s a more well-lit area, complete with security cameras to mitigate those issues, Duddeck said.

The city is proposing to install a more permanent cluster mail system after construction ceases and intends to ask homeowners for feedback about the idea in the coming months. Duddeck said residents will be asked if there’s interest in re-installing permanent lockable gang mailboxes in place of single mailboxes. 

 

Rounding the corner

Julie said this summer’s construction did feel a little more streamlined than last.  

“The only improvement this year is they didn’t dig up both ends of the street at the same time” making it difficult for homeowners in the middle of the street to be mobile, she said. “Last year they did that multiple times.”

In his city council meeting update, Dawley said he recognizes the project looks messy considering it’s transitioning between two phases.

“Construction seems and feels unorganized when that’s your front yard or that’s right there in front of your house and you’re looking at it day in, day out,” Dawley said. “I get that.”

For now, Dawley asks residents to remain patient and contact the city directly with any questions or concerns. And for their part, city officials remind residents that the end is in sight.

“Any time you do these constructions its very disruptive. It can seem like there’s no end in sight to it,” Furlong said. “I get this. We’re rounding the corner with under two months remaining.”

 

People can join the project email list by emailing projectinfoNSP@wsbeng.com. Questions can be directed to the project hotline at 651-286-8478. 

 

–Amy Felegy can be reached at afelegy@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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