When Bloomington’s street improvements along 106th Street commence on either side of Interstate 35W, those improvements won’t include creative placemaking, the Bloomington City Council determined Oct. 19.

The council voted 4-3 to strike $150,000 from the project, which was earmarked for an artistic enhancement to the new freeway underpass that connects Lyndale Avenue to points west of the freeway, including the Bloomington Public Schools’ district offices and two school buildings.

Councilmember Jack Baloga objected to the expenditure, citing reductions in city services, as well as staffing cuts the council is preparing to make toward addressing the budget deficit the coronavirus pandemic has created. Approving a $150,000 expenditure toward creative placemaking at a time of budget cuts makes the council appear tone deaf, Baloga observed. “I find that problematic,” he said.

The expenditure was part of a $3.7 million improvement project for 106th Street, from Lyndale Avenue east of the freeway to Verdi Road, a residential street across from the east side of Oak Grove Middle School.

The freeway underpass is being reconstructed in conjunction with the new freeway bridge spanning the Minnesota River. The entrance and exit ramps from the freeway will remain. Traffic adjustments, including access closures to 106th Street from residential roads will occur, and the freeway underpass will be widened to allow four lanes of travel. The new underpass will also include a median and shoulders to accommodate bicycling, according to the council’s project summary.

Mayor Tim Busse noted that approximately $3.2 million in state aid and $400,000 in Minnesota Department of Transportation funding is covering the project cost. Karl Keel, Bloomington’s director of public works, said the city’s state aid funding includes money the city has received previously, and holds internally. That internal state aid funding would cover the cost of the creative placemaking project, Keel explained.

Baloga asked if the $150,000 could be used for future street projects and reduce the city’s cost for such a project. Keel confirmed it could.

The council discussed the option of considering the creative placemaking component at a later date, but City Manager Jamie Verbrugge recommended that the council makes its decision along with the approval of the overall project, as four finalists for the creative placemaking project had already been selected, and were expected to present their proposals in March.

Councilmember Patrick Martin asked what the city’s sunk costs are for placemaking. Alejandra Pelinka, the city’s director of creative placemaking, said the city had spent $370 toward the project to that point.

Baloga, Martin and councilmembers Dwayne Lowman and Shawn Nelson voted in favor of striking creative placemaking from the project while Busse and councilmembers Jenna Carter and Nathan Coulter voted against the motion.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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