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Ramsey pushes forward plan to overhaul Rice Street and 694 interchange

August 1, 2018

The final pull tab has been sold and the last round has been served out of the Vadnais Inn, the little red dive bar that has held for deacades the corner spot where Shoreview, Little Canada and Vadnais Heights meet.

Ramsey County bought the bar, which will be torn down to make room for a roundabout, one of three that will replace the stop lights at the Interstate 694 and Rice Street interchange to help get traffic moving through the increasingly busy throughway.

The county’s hope is that the $30 million project will cut down commute times and backups, but also be a shot in the arm for development along the tired stretch of Rice Street. The county has been trying to sell a vacant lot — the site of its old public works department — across from the Vadnais Inn for years.

But as the county hopes to bring in new development, one business will have to close. Kris John, who rented the space for the Vadnais Inn and ran the bar for more than 20 years, said she won’t reopen it in another location.

It closed for good Saturday night.

“All that’s left is to just clean up,” John said. “It’s not good but there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The county has been planning to reconstruct the interchange for years.

On July 24 the Ramsey County Board accepted the final $6 million needed from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to finish buying up right-of-ways and easements for the project. The state will pay for the bulk of the work — $20.5 million. Another $7 million will come from federal funds.

Engineers expect the roundabouts to be safer than traditional signals while moving cars more quickly through the intersection.

“Anyone who is coming into work from 694 and Rice knows that it’s going to be a parking lot at certain times of the day,” said County Board member Mary Jo McGuire, who represents the area. “Well, it’s going to be better now.”

Construction is expected to start in February and last for about a year, said Ted Schoenecker, Ramsey public works director.

The biggest boost to traffic will be that the three roundabouts will be able to do the job that four signals are currently doing, Schoenecker said.

During rush hours, the cars that hit the red lights bottleneck traffic down Rice Street. “There are four signals in that small space, so by just removing one of those, it’s going to seriously address congestion issues,” he said.

And they will keep that stretch of Rice Street from backing up for years to come.

“The studies show that that congestion will be almost eliminated even as we look out in the future and with any projected growth in that area,” Schoenecker said. “It will handle traffic looking out 20 years.”

While they won’t be the first roundabouts in the county, they will be the first in the Rice Street area.

It may take some getting used to for drivers, but roundabouts have been proven to be safer than traditional intersections, said McGuire.

A 2017 Minnsota DOT study shows that roundabouts reduced fatal accidents by nearly 90 percent at the intersections they replaced.

“I’ve been in an accident where someone ran a red light and totalled my car,” McGuire said. “What I love about roundabouts is they slow everyone down. Everyone is pointed in the same direction. If there’s an accident people may get bumped and bruised, but not killed.”

Time will tell if the new interchange attracts new businesses to Rice Street.

“That’s really all a county can do — is work on the infrastructure,” McGuire said. “Our engineers say this is the best option for that area with that layout. We’ll just have to see if development is encouaraged if there’s easier access.”

Greg Stanley • 612-673-4882

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