Skyway linkage issues continue to affect downtown St. Paul

Ongoing Central Corridor light rail construction in downtown St. Paul continues to create problems in terms of skyway access. The project is also raising questions about the need for an elevator connection near the planned Fourth and Cedar station is being debated. While many skyway users see an elevator as a basic need for skyway access, some question whether it would create a safety concerns.

Light rail-related skyway construction has disrupted downtown for several months and generated controversy for those who rely on skyways.

Earlier this year state lawmakers and the Central Corridor project office were at odds over the need for a vertical connection between the skyway and the Fourth and Cedar station area. Long-term redevelopment of the station area block is seen as creating a vertical access point. But in the interim, some connection is needed.

St. Paul city officials want an elevator, from the station area to the skyway. The city has worked with the engineering firm of TKDA to design the link. The link would cost about $1 million, said City Engineer John Maczko. Currently, there is no funding in the Central Corridor budget to pay for the link but city officials want to be ready to build the link if money does become available Maczko said. Plans show a vertical connection that features a lot of visibility, so that people can see in as well as out. It also needs to be designed with materials that are easy to clean and yet be attractive.

But the immediate question from some Capitol River Council members centered on safety. “This tower would be one half block from one of the nastiest corners in downtown,” one council member said.

Other council members said an elevator could provide easy access into the skyway for criminals, creating risks for skyway users. Some said they already have been harassed and even extorted by criminals trying to block skyway access.

City officials told Capitol River Council representatives in August that Metropolitan Council will provide security for the light rail system, including the Fourth and Cedar station. Long-term, when the block around the station is developed, a building owner would also be involved in providing security.

Many downtown St. Paul residents with disabilities who rely on skyways for access to homes, jobs and shopping are already dealing with the loss of skyway connections due to the demolition of the former Bremer Bank building at Fifth and Cedar. That cut off a key skyway link over Fifth Street this spring. Maps in the skyway system show alternative routes but those have raised complaints as they are lengthy detours.

Despite the efforts of city officials and thedowntown district council, Capitol River Council, there are still complaints that some skyways aren’t accessible during evening hours. Skyway users are forced to detour several blocks to get to their destinations.

The skyway connection to the planned Fourth and Cedar light rail station is already taking shape, said Dan Soler of the Central Corridor project office. Piers for a new skyway link were installed this summer, to allow a connection over Fifth Street into the St. Paul Athletic Club and other destinations.

Another skyway closure in the Fourth and Cedar block began Aug. 29 and will continue into November. That is being done to allow for construction of a new skyway connection into the St. Paul Athletic Club building.

Structural steel for the new, temporary skyway connection will start going up in mid-September, with the goal of having the new skyway in place by November. The connection will remain in place until the old bank site and area around thelight rail station is developed. City officials have envisioned a mixed-use multi-story building on the old bank building site. When that is built a permanent skyway link will go into place.

Soler said the new skyway and any connections must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Capitol River Council has a skyway committee that acts on issues including variances to the city’s hours for skyway access, and other skyway related issues. If you would like more information on the committee, go to www.capitolrivercouncil.org/get-involved/committees

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