Park Board postpones reopening West River Parkway

The road, now set to reopen next fall, was closed due to a 2014 mudslide.

Work on West River Parkway has been delayed due to an very steep, unstable river bluff.  Credit: Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Work on West River Parkway has been delayed due to an very steep, unstable river bluff. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board plans to reopen West River Parkway next fall, more than two years after a mudslide closed the road, rather than by Jan. 1.

Staff told Park commissioners during a Dec. 16 meeting that they will no longer be able to reopen the parkway between next January and March, as they recently announced, due to setbacks with the uniquely unstable project. The board now expects to reopen the parkway around September 2016.

During a June 19, 2014 rainstorm, a mudslide brought 4,000 cubic yards of dirt and debris down a nearly 10,000-square-foot section of a very steep Mississippi River bluff onto the road. Barr Engineering began working on the site between 4th Street and the Franklin Avenue Bridge the following September.

Despite efforts to control the site, Michael Schroeder, assistant parks superintendent, told commissioners that the site remains “very unstable,” and several more major “failures” or falling debris have delayed reconstruction.

The board has been working with Fairview Health Services, whose Fairview-University Medical Center is on top of the slope near the University of Minnesota’s West Bank. The hospital’s cooling, heating and emergency generator facilities are located on the fringe of the unstable slope where crews are installing five stabilizing walls. Schroeder called the work to maintain the slope below the facilities “probably the most rigorous quality control in a construction project we’ve had for the Park Board.”

Robb Gruman, a vice president of Fairview Health Services, reiterated the delicate approach needed to maintain the well being of those facilities.

“If those were to fail in any way, shape or form that would be a critical problem for us,” he told commissioners.

The tricky nature of the project has made for several setbacks. The board initially said the parkway wouldn’t reopen until August 2015, which was the pushed to fall 2015. In September, the reopening was expected to come in December, and just in November park staff thought work would be completed by Jan. 1.

The delays have been a point of confusion and frustration for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who previously relied on the parkway. Vice President Scott Vreeland of District 3, which includes the parkway area, and At-Large Commissioner John Erwin said they constantly get questions from the public about the parkway’s closure. It’s estimated nearly 7,000 motorists would use the segment of West River Parkway daily.

Following the planned three-month reopening, the Hennepin County had already planned to close the parkway in April 2016 due to work to replace the deck on the Franklin Avenue Bridge above the road. That work is expected to be done in early September.

Work on the parkway necessitates a $12,500 easement with Fairview for land that features existing and newly constructed storm sewer facilities and a retaining wall to maintain the hospital buildings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state are covering 100 percent of the project costs. The board had expected emergency and permanent recovery of the slope to cost $6 million.