In what might be the most disruptive freeway closure of the summer — and that is saying a lot this year — the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) will shut down a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 35W through the heart of the Twin Cities this weekend.
From 9 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday, northbound travel won’t be allowed between the Crosstown Hwy. 62 in Richfield and Interstate 694 in Arden Hills, except for the stretch from County Road C to Interstate 694. Southbound lanes on I-35W will be closed, too, except from I-694 down to Hwy. 280 and Hwy. 36 and from 46th Street to the Crosstown.
Brace yourself, because the same drill is going to happen again next weekend.
If that were not enough, three more weekend closures between Roseville and Arden Hills are on the calendar in August, and two more in September. But at least none will be during the busy State Fair period Aug. 23 to Sept. 3.
“We understand and appreciate that it’s inconvenient and we do apologize,” said MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens. “We have work to do to keep 35W in shape.”
MnDOT has two separate projects going on I-35W this summer. One is the $239 million rebuilding of the freeway between downtown Minneapolis and 43rd Street. That project includes rebuilding the congested I-94/I-35W interchange, adding a new transit station at Lake Street, and building new off- and on-ramps at 28th and Lake streets. The project also includes replacing or rebuilding 18 bridges. MnDOT is putting a utility pipe under I-35W, which requires the full closure.
To the north of downtown, the agency is replacing deteriorated concrete and resurfacing the freeway between NE. 4th Street and County Road C.
“Sometimes these projects bump up against each other,” Aeikens said. “And this weekend they did.”
The disruption coincides with a number of big events this weekend in Minneapolis, including the WNBA All-Star Game and the Loring Park Art Festival. The Twins are out of town this weekend.
“You’ll still be able to get in and out of Minneapolis,” Aeikens said. “You’ll just have to find other ways.”
That might be easier said than done, especially in northeast Minneapolis, where a number of logical alternate routes won’t be available. Broadway Street is under construction and traffic will be severely restricted on Hwy. 280, open only between Franklin and Larpenteur avenues. There will be no access from Interstate 94 to Hwy. 280.
Businesses in the Quarry Shopping Center and right along I-35W are likely to feel the pinch.
“That really hurts us. There won’t be any good way to get here from the west,” said Dave Bratland, general manager of Gross National Golf Course on St. Anthony Boulevard.
Bratland said he will send e-mails to duffers with scheduled tee times to alert them to the logistical nightmare. To reach the course, he said golfers may have to backtrack and use routes such as Central Avenue to St. Anthony Boulevard, cut through downtown Minneapolis or take I-35E to Hwy. 36 to County Road C to St. Anthony Boulevard.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “That could be an extra 20-minute drive. If they get here [late], we’ll get them on the course.”
With few routes leading to the Delta Hotels by Marriot at Industrial Boulevard and I-35W, General Manager Ken Boyles said front desk staff may have to spend more time on the phone guiding guests through the labyrinth of closures in the area.
“We are assuming some guests will have some trouble,” Boyles said. “Hopefully they have that programmed into their GPS.”
While definitely inconvenient, the shutdown is understandable, Boyles said.
“They are improving the infrastructure and as long as they are improving the roads, I’m all for it,” he said. “It has to get done sometime.”
MnDOT’s Aeikens admits that it’s a lot to deal with all at once, but the agency decided to do repairs all at once rather than one at a time.
“We didn’t want to spread it over years and years,” he said. “We wanted to get it done as quickly as we can.”
In a summer that’s trying the nerves of motorists, that can’t come soon enough.