It's about 5:15 p.m. A dreaded wintry mix has created chaos on the interstate, and you need to make the long commute home. Decision time: Do you wait out the gridlock or flee to the side streets?
The stakes are high. The right choice could mean 15 extra minutes of bliss at home in front of the TV. The wrong one ends with honking horns, fishtailing semis and rising blood pressure.
Many commuters have different plans of attack for surviving the rush.
"I seem to experience less frustration on the side streets," said Tomasz Majewski, 32, of Richfield. "Side streets even after snow seem to move at the speed limit, as opposed to the freeways, where the speed seems to be cut in half."
Naomi Miller, 32, commutes from Plymouth to work on the University of Minnesota East Bank campus every day. She claims that with ever-changing road closures around the U, the interstate is more reliable.
"Generally, for my commute, I stay on the freeway, because I would have to go through downtown," she said. "Because of construction, it is more congested to go through downtown."
The average commute time in the Twin Cities is 22.9 minutes, according to Census figures. Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said that during a storm, it can take two to three times longer. Experts disagree on how exactly to speed that up.
"If you see congestion on the freeway, you may be better off to take an arterial parallel street," said Henry Liu, an associate professor in civil engineering at the University of Minnesota.
An "arterial parallel street" is a road that runs parallel to a major interstate from the suburbs to the city. For example, Hwy. 55 is an arterial parallel route to Interstate 394 from the western suburbs.
Traffic lights on these streets are coordinated to allow traffic to pass quickly into the city in the morning and back to the suburbs in the afternoon, making arterial parallels a potentially faster option than the interstate.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation doesn't see it that way. MnDOT officials advise drivers not to leave the interstate because city streets aren't able to handle heavy traffic and are plowed less frequently.
"When a storm comes, folks should plan accordingly," said MnDOT's Gutknecht in an e-mail. "Add extra time or maybe leave earlier or later to avoid rush hour."
And there's always public transportation. Or a bike.
Peter Funk is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.