Day 1 of a $21 million construction project along Interstate 694 more than doubled many drivers’ commutes and had others scurrying to find alternate routes.
Frustrating as it was, officials said it could have been worse. And it may get that way soon: More lane restrictions and longer commutes are on the way.
Tuesday’s start squeezed only westbound lanes between East River Road in Fridley and Hwy. 100 in Brooklyn Center. Eastbound I-694 was narrowed Tuesday evening for the five-month project on the north metro freeway. Later this week, restrictions will be extended eastward to Interstate 35W, about a 6-mile stretch.
Garrett Stone was one of the Tuesday morning commuters who got a taste of what’s in store.
“It’s just kind of a hassle,” he said. The construction nearly tripled Stone’s usual 20-minute commute from New Brighton to Plymouth. He knew about the roadwork ahead of time and left half an hour earlier than normal.
“There’s not really an alternative route from where I’m at. I tried to find one, but it’s a lot of side streets,” Stone, 26, said. “It’s almost just as much time finding a way to avoid the traffic.”
Carlos Gee thought differently, weaving through some residential and side roads for his commute from South St. Paul to Brooklyn Center. He feels it’s better to be moving.
“I’m not a patient person, so I’d just rather not have to sit there 2 miles from work and sit there for you know, 30, 40 minutes,” Gee, 32, said.
His commute time was still more than doubled.
Not worse than expected
Even so, the regional transportation center reported that the situation wasn’t horrible, said Kent Barnard of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
“It wasn’t perfect, but [an official] said it wasn’t bad,” Barnard said. “It wasn’t any worse than we had expected.”
The project is expected to be completed in early November. It includes putting new decks on bridges at the 252/694/94 interchange in Brooklyn Center, patching concrete and joints, and grinding down the road, which is a corridor for 150,000 drivers a day.
Traffic will be reduced to two lanes daily in each direction from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and to one lane each way from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. This project is on top of roadwork already underway from I-35W to Hwy. 10 to the east.
Wrestling with week one
“In general, the first week or so, a project like this is the most problematic for us because people have to get adjusted to the new lanes and the shifts of the traffic,” Barnard said.
John Siqveland, public relations manager at Metro Transit, said the detours the agency put in place to avoid the congestion appeared to “be working well to keep schedules operating normally.”
In Fridley, East River Road and University and Central avenues all feed south onto 694.
“Those were backed up this morning considerably more than usual during rush hour,” said Lt. Mike Monsrud of the Fridley Police Department.
There were two accidents during morning rush hour, neither with injuries, Monsrud said.
The department hadn’t received complaints of commuters using residential streets as alternative routes, Monsrud said, “But it’s just Day 1. So I don’t know if people will try to snake their way through the residential neighborhoods as it continues.”
Similarly, Brooklyn Center Police Cmdr. Tim Gannon said his department didn’t see an uptick of congestion on city streets, but he also said it’s still early.
“We do believe that maybe at some point in time some of the residential streets might be used as detours around the 694 work that’s being done,” Gannon said.
Peter Lee, who works second shift at Target headquarters in Minneapolis, said he usually avoids rush hour, so the traffic added only about 10 minutes to his commute from the north metro. But as the road narrows, he’s not sure what that could mean. Lee, 28, said he’ll probably start using a route he takes during the winter to avoid highways.
For his part, Stone is considering going into work still earlier, hoping the traffic won’t be as bad. But he’s also preparing himself mentally.
“Just bear with it because there really isn’t another route you could take. … [A different route] might save you a headache, I guess, if you don’t like sitting in traffic,” Stone said. “But if you can deal with sitting in traffic and getting through that, then you’re fine. Just bear with the storm until it’s over.”