It took more than two years and an estimated $60 million, but the reconstruction of one of the most congested freeways in the Twin Cities is finally finished.
The completion of the Hwy. 100 project by the Minnesota Department of Transportation provided a sigh of relief for St. Louis Park residents and officials, so much so that they gathered Thursday at Carpenter Park to celebrate.
“Progress sometimes means disruption,” Mayor Jake Spano said. “We’ve had some for a couple of years. We’re glad to see it end.”
Hwy. 100 is one of the busiest passages through the western suburbs, stretching between Bloomington and Brooklyn Center. The project revamped the section between W. 36th Street and Interstate 394, which runs through St. Louis Park. The city’s cost was about $3 million of the total $60 million for the project.
There are now three lanes in each direction rather than two, new pavement and renovated ramps and acceleration lanes. Four bridges also were replaced, including two major ones built in the 1930s — one along Minnetonka Boulevard and another along Hwy. 7, which just reopened last week.
Most of the changes were made to reduce the number of collisions and smooth the traffic flow on a freeway that carries about 120,000 vehicles a day. Before construction, Hwy. 100 could see up to four hours of congestion during combined rush-hour periods, according to MnDOT documents.
“The intention here is to bring all the new bridges up to standard,” said Nariman Vanaki, project engineer for MnDOT. “[They are] relatively old to a lot of other bridges that are being replaced.”
While MnDOT crews kept certain lanes open during most of the construction, St. Louis Park streets took the brunt of redirected traffic, especially during weekend closures and when the bridges were being replaced. The Minnetonka bridge carries 19,000 vehicles daily and the Hwy. 7 bridge about 35,000, according to the city’s engineering director Debra Heiser.
“Quite frankly, it was a lot of traffic. Our residents had some concerns,” Heiser said. She said the city tried different methods to regulate the redirected traffic, including placing barricades. “To be honest, it was hard. That’s why we want to celebrate today,” she said.
Reconstruction of the highway was first proposed in 2000. In 2008, the Legislature identified the Minnetonka and Hwy. 7 bridges as “structurally deficient.”
Designs and assessments were made at the turn of the decade, and construction officially started in August 2014.
MnDOT worked on a separate preservation project on Hwy. 100 between I-494 in Bloomington and W. 36th Street. That construction cost $16.7 million and is expected to be finished in the next couple of weeks.
Hwy. 100 still had one lane closed in each direction Thursday as crews were finishing up work along the median. All lanes were expected to be open Saturday, Vanaki said.
Even though the project is over, it may not mean the end of St. Louis Park’s traffic influx. Another MnDOT construction project is set to start in January along Hwy. 169, the city’s western boundary.
“Ultimately, we will see impacts,” Heiser said. “But I don’t think it will be as impactful as Hwy. 100.”