If there’s anything that can kill the holiday spirit, a traffic jam at the mall might be at the top of the list.

But this year, Christmastime congestion may not be as big a problem for shoppers heading to Minnetonka’s Ridgehaven Mall.

At least that’s the expected benefit of a new full-access intersection and bridge leading from Plymouth Road to the strip mall and a Target store west of Ridgedale Center.

Construction started this summer and is on track to be completed before the frenetic December holiday rush, when vehicles often queue up in front of Ridgehaven Mall on Ridgedale Drive and long lines form as drivers make their way to nearby Cartway Lane.

Cartway Lane connects Ridgedale Drive with Plymouth Road and right now is the primary exit point from the shopping area for drivers heading to Interstate 394 or crossing Plymouth Road to get to Ridgedale Center. Drivers have two ways into the strip mall: They can use Cartway or the one-way Ridgehaven Lane leading from Plymouth Road to Target.

This new bridge in the project will turn Ridgehaven Lane into a two-way road. That will give motorists going to and from the shopping center a direct connection between Plymouth Road and I-394. And that in turn should take the pressure off bottlenecks at the intersections of Cartway Lane at Ridgedale Drive and Plymouth Road during the holidays and a few other busy times of the year, said Minnetonka city engineer Will Manchester.

“This is a definite traffic improvement for the city and region, not just this intersection,” he said.

The effort to reduce congestion comes with a nearly $12 million price tag. Of that, the city is spending $7.5 million and the rest is covered by a $4.5 million Regional Solicitation grant from the Metropolitan Council.

A study showed that traffic on Ridgedale Drive near the strip mall operates at an “acceptable level.” Studies did note that the intersection of Cartway Lane and Ridgedale Drive operated “poorly” during holidays. Studies also showed that the intersection of Plymouth Road and Cartway Lane had a lower than average crash rate compared to similar intersections elsewhere in Hennepin County.

Those studies make the project a real head-scratcher for Drive reader Annette Bertelsen, who lives in a neighborhood behind Ridgehaven Mall. She says it’s too much money to spend to address a traffic problem present just a few weeks out of the year when there are other needs in the city.

“It’s also hard to grasp how this became one of our community’s highest priorities at a time when retail shopping traffic is on the decline,” she said.

Today, about 5,000 vehicles use the one-way Ridgehaven Lane each day. But that is expected to grow to 12,000 by 2040, according to Manchester.

The whole Ridgedale area is undergoing something of a renaissance. Following the recent expansion and renovation of Ridgedale Center, new plans on the drawing board call for a six-story apartment building to rise adjacent to the shopping complex along with a two-acre park.

“This [bridge project] has been on the docket as a need,” Manchester said. “We are setting up for the future and taking care of capacity issues.”

Next summer the city plans to redo Ridgedale Drive from Ply­mouth Road to I-394 with new pavement, landscaped medians, walks, lighting and a multiuse trail.

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.