Van White died in 1993. It's been nine years since a proposed boulevard to connect the north and south sides of Minneapolis was named by the City Council after White, its first black member.
His 79-year-old widow, Javanese, says she'd like to see the road finished.
The council gave the go-ahead Friday to seek bids for remaining sections of the much-delayed, partially completed Van White Memorial Boulevard. But there's still uncertainty over when the roadway will at last provide a link between Dunwoody Boulevard and the North Side through Bassett Creek valley. That route was intended to reduce the isolation of the North Side's public housing residents.
The city hopes to put out the bids this fall, with project completion in mid-2013. But that schedule depends on how long reviews by state and federal road officials take. They asked for a new review because of the time that's passed since their last review in 2003.
City engineers are doubtful the $21 million budget for the project will allow their plans to be completed. They have $12.7 million left after buying land, cleaning up soil contamination and preparing the spongy valley soils to hold the weight of two large bridges.
They doubt that's enough to build the remaining 3,050 feet of roadway, plus the two bridges that will carry the boulevard over two sets of railroad tracks, a city public works yard and the Cedar Lake Trail.
So they say the southbound of the twin bridges probably will need to be delayed until more money is found. They'll take base bids with only the northbound bridge included, along with construction of abutments for the southbound bridge. Completion of both bridges will be one of several bid alternatives, but is likely to happen only if contractors are hungry enough to make lower-than-expected proposals.
But the prospect of an unfinished bridge is one reason the nearby Harrison Neighborhood Association is unhappy with aspects of the proposed roadway. The association sees the link as crucial to getting people to jobs and housing planned in future redevelopment of the valley. Ryan Companies has been granted exclusive rights by the city to come up with a plan for redevelopment.
The neighborhood group said that building only one of two bridges, even though it will carry two-way traffic, threatens that access. It is also concerned that the roadway provides no direct access to the part of the valley west of the roadway that is scheduled to be developed first.
Genesis of the boulevard
Van White Memorial Boulevard was first sketched in redevelopment discussions that followed the settlement of a public housing discrimination lawsuit. The suit alleged that minorities were illegally concentrated into four public housing projects that flanked Olson Highway.
"One of the goals of the settlement was to reduce the isolation of the immediate area," said Tim Thompson, a lawyer who represented public housing residents. A community-based plan emerged in 1999 after the settlement, and the area was rebuilt with mixed-income rental and owner-occupied housing; there were units for families eligible for public housing and other subsidized units mixed with market-rate housing. The plan also included a road to better connect the development to the North Side, downtown and the South Side. "It was crucial to connect north Minneapolis to south Minneapolis in a more direct way," Thompson said.
The road is complete now from N. 7th Street, one block short of Plymouth Avenue, to N. 4th Street, one block short of Glenwood Avenue, the area where redevelopment is partially done. It is a split roadway with landscaped walks and bike paths.
The boulevard project originally was under the city's development agency, which handled land transactions, but more recently shifted to the Department of Public Works. Project engineer Ole Mersinger said the complexity of the land ownership in the valley, including two different railroads, was one reason for the delay.
"You've got a lot of different competing interests and underlying rights," Mersinger said.
Thompson, the Harrison group and several social justice groups told public officials in a letter that a single bridge creates a choke point inhibiting development of the valley as envisioned in its master plan. Meanwhile, White's widow waits.
"I would like to see it completed before I leave this Earth," she said this week.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438