It’s still unclear whether an overhaul of Ayd Mill Road, which would fix the pothole-riddled roadway and turn part of it into a greenway, will happen this year.
The controversial $7.5 million project was tied to an $80 million plan for public works projects through 2024, which the City Council needed to approve Wednesday in order for work to happen this year. Council members approved the five-year plan, with the caveat that Public Works must complete traffic modeling at specific times and hold community meetings on the Ayd Mill project, which will likely come before the council again in the spring.
“This gets at what, for me, were big stumbling blocks,” said Council Member Jane Prince.
Most council members have expressed support for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure on Ayd Mill but have raised concerns about what they describe as a lack of community input.
Council Member Dai Thao introduced an amendment Wednesday evening to remove Ayd Mill from the five-year public works plan altogether.
“I believe that this whole process was a surprise,” he said. “This deal here shouldn’t be a discussion just between elected officials and department heads.”
Prince and Council Member Rebecca Noecker voted to support the amendment, but it failed after Council President Amy Brendmoen and Council Members Mitra Jalali, Nelsie Yang and Chris Tolbert voted against it.
The cost and scope of the Ayd Mill project has evolved since Mayor Melvin Carter proposed converting two of the road’s four lanes into a greenway as part of his 2020 budget. The initial price tag was $5.2 million, but plans were scaled back after the Public Works Department discovered drainage problems and other complications that would have inflated the cost to $9.8 million.
Dozens of resident comments on Ayd Mill that council members received in the past week lean toward support for adding a greenway — or eliminating car traffic altogether. Dozens of people came to City Hall for a public hearing Wednesday, but after Brendmoen emphasized that there would be future opportunities to offer input, none spoke up.
A crumbling corridor
The future of Ayd Mill Road — a former railroad corridor — has been in flux for decades. Como resident Ariel Kagan, 30, grew up a block from Ayd Mill. After leaving for college and then returning a decade later, Kagan said, she was disappointed to find the roadway no different from when she was a child.
Though Carter’s plan doesn’t include the linear park her family once advocated for, Kagan said she thinks reducing the number of vehicle lanes would be a good start.
“It could be such a great part of our city,” she said.
In a letter Monday, Carter urged council members to approve the three-lane conversion, listing a series of city policies that prioritize modes of transportation other than cars. Carter also noted that as a council member in 2009, he co-authored a resolution that called for a two-lane roadway with a parallel bicycle and pedestrian trail.
Resurfacing Ayd Mill and adding a 12-foot-wide bike and pedestrian trail, along with stormwater, traffic signal and lighting improvements, “meets our shared policy goals and values in the most cost-effective manner,” Carter wrote.
In a city plagued by deteriorating streets, Ayd Mill Road is one of the worst. The council approved a $3.5 million mill and overlay on Ayd Mill last year. It decided to wait on Carter’s expanded proposal when it approved the 2020 budget in December, citing a lack of public input.
In his letter, the mayor pledged that if the council approves the Ayd Mill project as part of Public Works’ five-year plan, the city would hold a community meeting and create an online tool for public feedback.
“We will bring the results of this public engagement work to you, and then seek a final Council approval for the [Ayd Mill Road] project by early May,” Carter wrote. “The terrible condition of the road presents us few options but to move forward with this compressed process and timeline.”