Wednesday's commute into downtown Minneapolis was even worse than many had feared.
Express buses took hours to arrive and downtown streets were parking lots well into the day.
Emily Zieska, an accountant with the Dougherty & Company LLC, said she was late to work Wednesday after her commute up Interstate 94 was stalled for an hour and a half.
Carpool passengers got out around the last 30 car-lengths of the Fourth Street entrance ramp to walk to work, Zieska said. And bus drivers were letting people off after they crossed Second Avenue, she added.
"There's no way of planning around it," said Zieska, who worried about getting through the evening rush hour in time to make her son's baseball game. "You end up not meeting your work demands, not meeting your family life demands."
Road and light-rail work downtown appeared to be the culprit Wednesday, along with morning rain that likely compounded an already tricky downtown grid bogged down with lane closures on seemingly every street. The latest closure: construction at 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue where new light rail tracks and concrete are being laid as part of an 11-day shutdown of downtown Minneapolis light-rail trains. For Metro Transit to fix 14-year-old tracks on the Blue Line, several blocks of Hennepin Avenue were closed Tuesday at 8 p.m.
"It was a bad commute," Metro Transit spokesman Howie Padilla said of Wednesday morning's gridlock. "We're hearing from our operators who were stuck in the very same traffic."
Under clear skies, evening commuters still gnashed their teeth as traffic crawled, intersections jammed and some buses ran late. It wasn't as bad as the morning commute, Padilla said.
He's hoping the worst may be over. Sunny skies are forecast for Thursday's commute so rain won't complicate driving and bikers might take to two wheels. By Friday, traffic could be down as some Minnesotans head out early for a long holiday weekend. And Monday, downtown trains will be running again and Hennepin Avenue will reopen.
"That will help having one last project in the downtown area," Padilla said. "And one less project will help everybody."
Metro Transit added buses to its downtown routes to make up for the light-rail shutdown there, but guess what? Buses drive on the same lanes as cars. The only motorized commute option that was free of pain: Northstar Commuter Rail, which travels on its own heavy track. (Ridership was up 30 percent in May, well over the annual 8 percent average, Padilla noted.)
Nobody else appeared to get a smooth trip.
Minneapolis City Council President Barb Johnson said a meeting on the new minimum wage started 30 minutes late Wednesday morning because everyone was late. Her own commute, normally about 10 minutes from Victory Memorial Drive, lasted 40 minutes. She rerouted to Washington Avenue from her usual I-94 because of congestion related to the Lowry Hill Tunnel being reduced to two lanes each way. But Washington Avenue was crowded with other alternate-route seeking drivers.
"Everybody's got their projects and people do work together to try to make the projects not compete," she said of the road work, adding that there is a lot going on. On her side of town, the bridge and ramp repairs stretch from the tunnel to I-694. Traffic has been wild for weeks, she said.
The city is answering the bell and putting more traffic patrol officers on the streets immediately. Ten extra officers were out for the morning commute. Two more would be out for the evening drive, a spokesman said.
But Johnson wanted to manage expectations. "In some ways that makes people feel better, but, again, there's X number of cars trying to get through a space," she said.
Downtown it's an array of projects large and small that add up to driver frustration. On the eastern end, there's the new Hennepin County Medical Center ambulatory building just south of the main hospital. On the northern end, Hennepin County is working on Washington Avenue and on the western end, there's LRT and Nicollet Mall.
In addition, utility work is ongoing everywhere. In all, it's a whole lot of single lane closures that pinch traffic throughout the grid and frustrate drivers in their quest to bust out of the backup and find a smooth roll.
"It was tough for everybody, and we get that. Frankly, we're looking forward to Monday and our work is done," Padilla said.
Alas, that won't be the end of jaw-clenching commutes.
Johnson remarked that the "Armaggedon" of all road projects begins soon enough on the commons area: road and bridge maintenance and upgrades on I-35W to 94 westbound through Loring Park. The MnDOT project begins in September. It will last four years.
Staff Writer Sarah Jarvis contributed to this report.