Next door to an interstate-shaped hole in the ground, the windows rattle to the steady boom-boom-thud of construction.
The commotion brought one of the ceiling light fixtures crashing down at Prince’s favorite record shop. The staff at the Electric Fetus has spent months trying to keep the merchandise from vibrating off the shelves in rhythm with the Interstate 35W roadwork. Customers arrive white-knuckled, with tales of Google Map betrayals and hourlong detours around the spot where the highway used to be and where the bridge used to be and where the parking lot entrance used to be and where the sidewalk used to be.
Down the block, three families have left Megan and Anthony Carchedi’s small home day care since the highway project started last fall. The little ones liked watching the big trucks rumble through the neighborhood, but their parents got tired of construction detours adding an extra hour to their morning and afternoon commutes.
“Our house is shaking like crazy right now,” Anthony Carchedi said as utility crews worked pile drivers near their home at the intersection of East 22nd and Clinton. “We’re going on almost a year now of disruption.”
Welcome to the final months of the first year of the 35W construction project. If you can read this, you’re probably not sitting in gridlock, trying to get around the 15-mile stretch of highway that shut down this weekend and will shut down again next weekend.
It’s going to be sweet when it’s complete. Eleven new bridges. Transit hubs. Bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Smooth highway interchanges that won’t make you feel like your car’s being sucked into a taffy puller.
But for now, the commute feels exactly like getting sucked into a taffy puller. One that will slowly extrude us at our destinations, sweaty and half-deafened by blaring car horns.
Two hundred thousand vehicles a day once traveled that 2½-mile stretch of 35W and frankly, there are not enough of those new rental scooters in the Twin Cities to pick up the slack between now and fall 2021, when this project is supposed to wrap up.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates that there are 10,000 businesses trying to do business along the border of a construction zone that will shift from year to year. As aggravating as the commute is for us, it’s a lot more nerve-racking for the shops and restaurants hoping their customers are willing to take the long way around to see them.
“You can just feel the tension on the roads. I hear more car horns than I ever have before,” said Aaron Meyerring, co-owner of the Electric Fetus. “We’re just trying to tread water.”
Sales are down 25 percent at the Fetus this year. Not only did the highway close, but the neighboring Franklin Avenue bridge was knocked down and built back up while road crews set up detours around detours that were also under construction.
“We’re all for new infrastructure,” Meyerring said, noting that the Electric Fetus store in Duluth was once flooded when an aged water main burst. The constant construction churn is getting old, but the shop’s loyal customers are still weaving through the orange cones to their door.
“I’m sure it would have put many, many companies our size out of business,” he said.
The Electric Fetus celebrated its 50th year in business this June. “We get customers every day who are like, ‘Gah, it took me an hour to get here!’ But we’ve always been a destination place, so we’re very thankful and appreciative of the people who go out of their way to try to get here,” Meyerring said.
The staff has joked about trying to come up with a list of traveling music to carry customers through miles of detours and bad roads. Maybe “Bridge over Troubled Waters,” he joked.
I tried to come up with a good 35W road trip mixtape and ran out of ideas somewhere around “Road to Nowhere.” I turned it over to Twitter, and Twitter stepped up, as it always does, with “Going Down the Road, Feeling Bad,” and “I Can’t Drive 55.”
But it was an alert reader and onetime recipient of a City Pages award for “Best Tweeter,” Chris Steller, who came up with your incentive to hop on a rental scooter and weave your way to the nearest construction zone record store to buy a copy of “Southtown Girls” by the Hold Steady. Because that song’s lyrics, he discovered, contain actual 35W detour directions:
Take Lyndale to the horizon.
Take Nicollet out to the ocean.
Take Penn Ave out to the 494.
Meet me right in front of the fabric store.