When construction to add a third lane on a segment of westbound I-694 through Shoreview begins on Monday, drivers will encounter a set up that will force them to pick a lane and live with their choice.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation will split the two traffic lanes just before Rice Street. Motorists who choose the lane that veers right will have access to on and off ramps between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue. Drivers who pick the lane that veers left will have no ability to get off the freeway until reaching I-35W.
"Cattle chutes, that's what we are calling them, informally," said spokesman Kent Barnard.
Officially, the left lane is designated as the through lane and the right lane as the local access lane, said project supervisor Tom Krier.
Signs will direct motorists into the proper lanes, but indecisive motorists or those who opt for the faster-moving lane and attempt to scoot over at the last nanosecond could become a highway menace.
"If somebody makes a last-second move, we might have a crash," Barnard said. "We are very aware that could happen. We're telling drivers to make a decision" and stick with it.
Westbound I-694 traffic will be alerted to the traffic change approximately ¾ mile before they have to make a choice. Signs will alert them to stay in the left lane for through traffic (the chute) and stay to the right for local traffic with ramp access at Rice Street, Victoria Street and Lexington Avenue. There will be additional signs just after motorists drive beneath the northbound I-35E flyover bridge, Barnard said..
Northbound I-35E traffic going to westbound I-694 will not have a choice. Those motorists will be merged to the right and will have to use the local access (right) side of westbound I-694. "This is for safety reasons since it would be difficult to get them over to the left for the through lane and have to cross traffic coming west on I-694," Barnard said.
The speed limit through the work zone will be 50 miles per hour. and double fines will be in effect through the area, he said.
The seldom-used layout will be in place through the fall of 2017, first on the westbound side then on the eastbound side. And it will take some getting used to, at first. But if everybody follows the rules, 'it's much safer for the motorists and the workers. People will just have to get used to it," Barnard said.
To prepare drivers, MnDOT created a series of animated videos showing how traffic will flow for the next two years as the agency adds a third lane in each direction between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue. The videos made at a cost of $15,000 tell drivers that "delays are easier to deal with when you can anticipate them and avoid them." and to "Be Ready" and "Know Your Route."
MnDOT also has used a digital billboard to warn motorists that construction is coming and traditional communication such as email, text messages and a MnDOT website that outlines the details of the $42 million Enhance 694 project.
The project has been much anticipated and much needed. The four-mile stretch between Snelling Avenue and Rice Street is the 10th worst corridor in terms of congestion and delays in the metro area and 320th worst in the nation, according to the 2015 Traffic Scorecard recently put out by the Seattle-based global traffic-tracking company INRIX.
"We get a lot of complaints about congestion" on 694, Barnard said.
Here is a summary of what MnDOT plans to do over the next two construction seasons.
- Add a third general purpose lane in each direction between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue.
- Reconstruct I-694 between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue.
- Rebuild interstate ramps at Lexington Avenue, Victoria Street and Rice Street.
- Open the right lane of the bridge from northbound I-35E to westbound I-694. The right lane will become an exit-only lane to Rice Street.
- Improve storm water drainage throughout the corridor.