A grinding summer of frequent freeway closures and the worst gridlock that downtown Minneapolis has seen in more than 15 years has metro commuters pining for the end of the road construction season — even if that means winter.
But the last day of summer Tuesday doesn’t mean it’s good riddance to detours and lane closures.
“We have a good six weeks to two months to go,” said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
That’s an ominous warning for weary commuters like Bridget Gaer, of Minnetonka. She’s been caught in massive traffic jams that have erupted all across downtown because of utility work that has created morning and afternoon rush hour traffic snarls, almost daily, for months.
“Seventh and Ninth Streets were an extra hot mess last week,” said Gaer, who works in the Capella Tower in Minneapolis. “I try to maintain Zen but when you get to the third, fourth cycle of a light without moving a single car length, it starts to get to you. It’s perpetual chaos. You can’t get out.”
Troubles are likely to continue in downtown Minneapolis through late fall, with lane restrictions on portions of Washington, LaSalle, Portland, Marquette and Chicago avenues along with parts of 9th, 8th, 7th and 4th streets. Crews are working to complete repaving of other streets ahead of the Oct. 4 Twin Cities Marathon.
Favorable weather has allowed MnDOT to complete some of its big projects such as the Snelling Avenue bridge over Interstate 94, but motorists will still encounter road work and delays as many high-profile projects that will run well into October. Those include I-94 between Rogers and St. Michael, Hwy. 10 at Armstrong Blvd. in Ramsey, I-35E between downtown St. Paul and Little Canada Road, I-494 between I-394 and the Fish Lake Interchange in Maple Grove, and I-394 between Hwy. 100 and downtown Minneapolis.
It’s not just on the freeways where drivers will continue to encounter a spate of road work. Ramsey County is nearly 70 percent done with its work for the season, but crews will be on the job until the end of October, said Joe Lux with the county’s Public Works Department. The county is using money from its wheelage tax to complete a backlog of paving projects, including on Cleveland Avenue, Lexington Pkwy. and County Road J.
Surprisingly, this has been a fairly normal construction season for MnDOT in terms of the number of projects and money spent, Gutknecht said. But like in real estate, it’s location, location location.
Constant closures of portions of Hwy. 100, including this weekend’s closure of the southbound lanes between I-494 and the Crosstown, and work on heavily traveled routes simultaneously all summer has made this year seem much worse than others.
“They stack one construction project right on top of another causing massive delays, Ken Omernick said in a posting on the Star Tribune’s Facebook page. “I get that the construction needs to get done and usually once it is done it is awesome but the way they go about doing these projects is just horrible. More time needs to be spent analyzing the impact these projects are having, finding a better way to do them, and working to provide better alternative routes.”
Transit riders have also felt the pain. Dave Hanson, manager of street operations for Metro Transit, said the summer has been especially challenging for Metro Transit, which currently has portions of 165 bus routes throughout the Twin Cities on detour.
“We have had significant ontime issues in the downtown [Minneapolis] core,” he said. “We are not impervious to traffic.”