After enduring nine months of detours, drivers in the west metro will once again be able to use Hwy. 169 in Edina when the Minnesota Department of Transportation opens the new Nine Mile Creek bridge at 5 a.m. Wednesday.
The highway has been shut down between Bren Road and Lincoln Drive/5th Street since January as MnDOT took down the old deteriorating bridge and replaced it with a new 3,000-foot causeway that passes over marshland.
More than 90,000 motorists who used the bridge each day before it was torn down have been on detour as MnDOT carried out the $64 million project. Last month, MnDOT offered contractor Ames Construction a $500,000 bonus to get the bridge open about a month earlier than planned.
News about Wednesday's opening brought a smile to Mike Malaske, who works at eTouchMenu, a software company in a business complex on the east side of Hwy. 169 at Bren Road.
"That's exciting," he said as he walked his white poodle, Tony, in the parking lot adjacent to the highway that he uses to get to work. "This will make it [my commute] tons easier. I love it because Hwy. 100 has been backed up."
The opening can't come soon enough for cities such as Hopkins and Edina. Both cities bore the brunt of motorists who snaked through adjoining neighborhoods in an attempt to find a shortcut rather than follow the official miles-long detour. Traffic was so bad in Edina's Parkwood Knolls neighborhood that the city erected barriers on Dovre Drive to keep unwanted traffic out the neighborhood. The barrier will be removed when the Nine Mile Creek bridge opens.
This summer in Hopkins, extra police were deployed to crack down on drivers speeding and rolling through stop signs and help alleviate major rush backups that developed along Smetana Road and 11th Avenue. City Hall was flooded with calls and e-mails from residents upset with traffic issues.
"We thank our neighbors in Edina and Minnetonka for sending so many new consumers into Hopkins," Mayor Molly Cummings joked during a news conference and ribbon cutting to announce the bridge's opening. "We hope they continue to shop and eat in Hopkins. A lot of people are really excited to see this happen."
MnDOT decided to completely shut down the highway for a single construction year rather than spread the work over two or three construction seasons.
The agency gave contractor Ames 272 days to complete the project. That helped keep the costs down and allowed 185 crew members to work without traffic whizzing by. In the past few weeks, Ames has worked around the clock and on weekends to accelerate the project, which was not supposed to be done until mid-to late October, said Alex Carlin, project manager.
"The biggest challenge was working in a wetland area," Carlin said.
Over the next four days, crews will finish up installation of traffic barriers and applying pavement markings, tasks that will be done by Wednesday's scheduled opening if the recent run of dry weather holds, he said.