For the second time since 2007, a segment of Hwy. 36 will be totally closed for several weeks next summer to help speed along work on a major construction project.
Two projects about 3 miles apart will replace signaled intersections with interchanges at English Street in Maplewood and Hilton Trail in Pine Springs. They are part of an ongoing effort by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to transform most of Hwy. 36 -- originally built during the 1930s and a key commuter route -- into a freeway design, said Wayne Norris, the agency's north area district manager.
"One of the goals for Hwy. 36, essentially from Interstate 35W to Interstate 694, is to eliminate all at-grade signalized intersections," Norris said.
Officials hope eliminating the signal lights will make traffic flow better and improve intersection safety. Crash data at English Street and Hwy. 36 show more accidents than average: 147 at the intersection over a three-year period.
During construction of the English Street project's second phase, likely to begin in late June, the highway will be completely shut down for two months, he said. Though the 50,000 or so drivers who pass that way each day will have to detour, a similar closure of Hwy. 36 in 2007 for five months in North St. Paul saved money and was completed sooner.
"Before that closure in North St. Paul, the first perception from those who were most affected was that they didn't favor that approach," Norris said. But with the move saving about a year of construction time, on top of $2 million in costs, critics turned supportive.
Maplewood, which has taken the lead in planning and securing financing for the interchange project, has been preparing for the disruption for several years, said City Manager Jim Antonen.
"It certainly is the lesser of two evils," Antonen said of the closure, but after many community meetings with residents and businesses, the consensus was to take the disruption in one lump "instead of something akin to being nibbled to death by bullheads."
When the project is done, it will include the interchange, a new bridge for the nearby Bruce Vento Trail, improvements to nearby Gervais Avenue and Viking Drive and a permanent closure of access to Hwy. 36 from Hazelwood Street and Atlantic Street.
Down the road at Hilton Trail, meanwhile, another signal will be eliminated and a new interchange will be built, but with minimal disruption to traffic on Hwy. 36, said Adam Josephson, east area district manager for MnDOT. However, nearby ramps to 694 will be closed for brief times and on Hilton Trail, northbound lanes will be closed most of the construction season and southbound lanes will be closed for two to three months.
The interchange will be created by building a bridge that carries Hwy. 36 over Hilton Trail. On either side of the new interchange, roundabouts will direct traffic to frontage roads, Hilton Trail and Viking Drive.
Once the English Street and Hilton Trail interchange projects are complete, there will be only two stoplights remaining between I-694 and I-35W: at Hadley Avenue and at Century Avenue. Early next year, Josephson said, MnDOT will begin a formal study to see whether removing one or both of them is feasible, and if so, what is the best way to go about it.
The timing of the projects also coincides with the first stages of construction on the St. Croix bridge at Oak Park Heights, with work beginning in earnest next year. Though the construction projects on Hwy. 36 "are not at all inter-related" with the bridge project, it will entail work on the roadway.
An interchange will be built linking Hwy. 95 and Hwy. 36 to replace the Beach Street overpass as part of the roadwork associated with the bridge. Stoplights at Osgood Avenue and Greeley Street in Stillwater at the bridge's western end won't be going away, he said, but the intersections and frontage roads will be dramatically altered.
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson