MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The five blocks of Washington Avenue that go through the heart of the University of Minnesota is now permanently closed to traffic.
At midnight, crews officially closed the road because of the Central Corridor Light Rail project.
The $1 billion project will connect St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis. In a few years, the road will look very different with only light rail trains and bus lines allowed on the thoroughfare, along with a pedestrian mall.
Along Washington Avenue, some U of M students say they don’t mind the current construction.
“I actually like it, means there’s not a lot of traffic and I can go wherever I want and there’s never a line for lunch,” said student Jens Lilevold.
But that is exactly what has business and restaurant owners worried — the lack of cars on the road also means a lack of customers.
Josh Jungling is owner of Erbert and Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop. He said he’s seen a drop in business because of recent construction.
“They’ve done some pre-construction,” said Jungling. “They blocked off part of the road. Whenever you make it difficult to get to a place of business it causes some concern and it has affected our sales.”
Jungling said his local business association is trying to get him grants to help with the lack of businesses but they’ve been unsuccessful.
“You can expect to see sales dropping 30 to 50 percent over the next few years,” said Jungling.
A manager at Applebee’s on Washington Avenue said they’re now working on an island with construction on Washington Avenue and more behind them on Beacon Street.
But some businesses are confident the construction will make very little impact. Keith Mercil of Mercil Campus Auto said his clients will find a way to get around the orange cones and road closed signs. They’ve been in business since 1936.
“It’s going to be a big mess around here for several months,” said Mercil. “We’ll be able to manage. We can still get in from the side streets. We have a lot of longer term customers who have been coming here for years. We may have to do a little advertising to get them in here.”
Construction for the light rail has already been under way on University Avenue in St. Paul for six weeks. Businesses said they have taken a major hit from the construction.
At Bonnie’s Café at University Avenue and Vandalia Street, the restaurant is relying on regulars to help them pull through.
“It’s hard for people to get in and out because they have the back entryway closed off,” said waitress Tammie Hartmann.
At the Fairview University of Minnesota Hospitals, patients and employees have gotten a lot of emails and warnings about traffic and parking problems. The advice being doled out is perhaps the advice that should go out to everyone if you plan to come to this area: plan some extra time to get there.
The project is expected to be complete in 2014 and will stretch 11 miles.