Faced with a 45-minute commute to Hopkins that he feared would double now that the Lowry Hill Tunnel is under construction, Kevin Anderson of St. Paul got creative. He bought an electric bike.
Now the Merriam Park resident can zip along the Midtown Greenway to his job in a half-hour, minimizing stress and sweat. “I’ll still pedal, and still get some exercise, but with an electric bike, it makes the commute seem less daunting,” Anderson said.
The summer road construction season added another headache Monday as work in the Lowry Hill Tunnel began, narrowing the Interstate 94 thoroughfare to two lanes in each direction. The $46 million project on downtown’s western flank will last three months.
And there’s the partial shutdown of light-rail service to downtown Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium station until July 3.
“This is totally affecting me, it’s horrible,” David Minehart, of Minneapolis, said as he rushed along 5th Street S. Monday morning searching for a working LRT stop. “I am totally confused.”
The $16.7 million transit reboot will involve crossings along 5th Street to be closed at various times, as new LRT track is installed. Plus, construction continues in separate projects along S. Washington Avenue and Nicollet Mall downtown.
Blue and Green line LRT commuters are just beginning to get used to a partial shutdown in service, which began Thursday evening. Four stops downtown — Government Center, Nicollet Mall, Hennepin Avenue and Target Field — are shuttered as a result.
In the meantime, LRT riders can walk from U.S. Bank Stadium station to the downtown core, use Nice Ride Minnesota bikes or hop on buses along 3rd and 4th streets. (It’s more than a mile between U.S. Bank Stadium Station and Target Field.)
“I knew this was coming, but I am frustrated,” said Stacy Berrard, who trotted along 5th Street S. to catch the Blue Line to work on Monday. Berrard normally takes a bus from her home in Robbinsdale to the Hennepin Avenue Blue Line stop, where a train takes her to work off Franklin Avenue.
“I cannot wait for them to fix this,” she said.
Adding to the headache: The intersection at 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue will be closed from Tuesday through July 2. Buses that normally run on Hennepin will be detoured to Marquette and 2nd Avenue S.
Transportation officials defended the perfect storm of projects, noting all had to get done, and the impending changes were well advertised.
Over the past few weeks and months, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has warned drivers of potential traffic jams in the Lowry tunnel area, advising them to take alternate routes and allow plenty of time. And Metro Transit featured announcements on trains and at stations, on posters and through social media. A series of transit ambassadors wearing bright yellow vests were on hand at U.S. Bank Stadium Station to guide confused commuters.
Most commuters took the change in stride. Jeremy Berman said Monday he may try the Nice Ride option to get to the stadium stop from his home in the North Loop.
“I understand the need to upgrade and replace track,” he said, over the din of a construction jackhammer nearby.
From a traffic standpoint, MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens said the morning commute “moved along pretty well in the I-94 project area because people planned ahead and found alternate routes [on Monday]. We hope they continue to do that for the remainder of the project.”
Still, there were reports of heavy traffic along the 7th and 11th Street exits off I-94 in the morning.
Some were pleasantly surprised. Commuter Nicole Schoeppner left for work an hour early Monday as she expected the worst. “Got to work in 6 minutes,” she tweeted.
“If people are taking another route today, I’d take it again [Tuesday],” Aeikens said. He worried that if people heard traffic moved well Monday, they might return to their normal route.
For those relying on LRT, Metro Transit is suggesting commuters take its “11-day Fitness Challenge” — that is, walking to and from their downtown destination from the stadium stop. Nice Ride Minnesota is charging $1 for the first 30 minutes for commuters, compared with the normal $3 per half-hour fee. A bike station was moved to a more convenient location at S. 4th Street and Park Avenue S. for wayward commuters and others.
Mary Morse Marti, executive director of Move Minneapolis, encouraged commuters to try alternate forms of commuting, including biking, transit and carpooling. The organization’s website — moveminneapolis.org — features deals for downtown parking ramps that have carpooling incentives, and places for bike commuters to shower and lockup their bikes.
The group is also hosting a series of coffee breaks for companies interested in learning more about employee telecommuting — the ultimate way to avoid traffic.
Tim.Harlow@startribune.com 612-673-7768 Twitter: @StribDrive
Janet.Moore@startribune.com 612-673-7752 Twitter: @MooreStrib