Robert Street underpass ribbon-cutting ceremony in West St. Paul

Celebrating the Opening of the Robert Street Underpass on the River-to-River Greenway

Thanks to Southview Animal Hospital for their support.

A crowd of elected officials, county and city staff, and residents gathered at the Robert Street underpass on Crawford Drive and Robert Street for a ribbon-cutting ceremony today. This officially opens the underpass (which has been open for use for several weeks now) on the River-to-River Greenway, creating a safe crossing for this regional trail that stretches nearly eight miles from the Minnesota River to the Mississippi River.

“It’s not just an underpass,” said Dakota County Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord, who represents West St. Paul. “It’s a gateway to a whole other development.” Apartment complexes are going up on both sides of the underpass, with a wetland reclamation project planned for the former golf course.

The completed trail connects four communities, six parks, and two schools. It passes the Dodge Nature Center and Wentworth Library, ultimately connecting to regional trails throughout the entire Twin Cities.

“Public works means they work for the public,” said State Representative Rick Hansen, who encouraged people to get out and use the trail.

Biking through a the Robert Street underpass on the River-to-River Greenway Trail in West St. Paul.
West St. Paul City Council Member Robyn Gulley, followed by Dakota County Commissioner Joe Atkins taking an inaugural ride through the underpass. (Photo courtesy of Dakota County)

The Long, Winding Path to an Underpass

Initial conversations on the Robert Street crossing began nearly two decades ago. A study in 2010 proposed a bridge crossing, which would have required a lot more land for sweeping ramps to rise above Robert Street. The first property acquisition for the project came in 2014 with Blockbuster. Actual construction didn’t start until 2020.

Funding for the $4.6 million project came from multiple sources. The late State Senator Jim Metzen secured $2 million in state funding for the project in 2014. Initial federal funding expired, but ultimately $650,000 in federal funding supported the project. The remaining $1.8 million came from Dakota County.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Robert Street underpass on the River-to-River Greenway Trail.
Ribbon-cutting ceremony; Left to right: West St. Paul City Council Members Robyn Gulley and Julie Eastman, South St. Paul Mayor Jimmy Francis, former West St. Paul Mayor John Zanmiller, West St. Paul Council Members John Justen, Dick Vitelli, and Lisa Eng-Sarne, State Senator Matt Klein, Dakota County Commissioners Kathleen Gaylord and Joe Atkins, West St. Paul Mayor Dave Napier, Dakota County Commissioner Mary Hamann-Roland, State Representative Rick Hansen, Met Council Member Chai Lee, and WSP Greenway Project representatives Kevin D. Hendricks and Matthew Schempp. (Photo courtesy of Dakota County)

Several elected officials noted that this has been a long process supported by many people along the way. Gaylord specifically thanked former West St. Paul Mayor John Zanmiller, who was in attendance. Current West St. Paul Mayor Dave Napier thanked current and former councils, as well as the string of former mayors involved, highlighting the contributions of former Mayor Jenny Halverson.

Hansen specifically thanked former State Representative Jason Metsa of Virginia, Minn., who helped fill a $225,000 funding gap by diverting extra funds for a project in his area to the underpass project.

“That’s how things get done—partnerships,” Hansen said.

The Greenway’s Next Step

The underpass and the Greenway itself have always been piecemeal projects, happening one small step at a time with support from many fronts. That continues with future improvements. While lights are installed in the tunnel, they haven’t been turned on yet due to a lack of electrical connection from Xcel Energy. That’s expected to come in the next week. Signage will also be added to both ends of the tunnel, currently waiting on materials. Landscaping is also planned around the tunnel, but it will likely be finished in the spring. The River-to-River Greenway Trail itself has a series of additional improvements in the coming years, including a pedestrian island added to Wentworth earlier this week.

There’s also potential for more events, following the recent West St. Paul Rider. Napier plans a mayor’s ride with Mendota Heights Mayor Stephanie Levine and South St. Paul Mayor Jimmy Francis in the coming weeks.

The WSP Greenway Project, a group of local residents who supported the project, will continue to advocate for the trail and projects that support safe pedestrian and bike routes.

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(Top photo courtesy of the City of West St. Paul. Note: West St. Paul Reader is not endorsed, affiliated with, or sponsored by the City of West St. Paul.)

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