At least one state lawmaker has joined the chorus of those decrying the Minnesota Department of Transportation's decision to shut down I-35W on one of the busiest traffic weekends of the year.
Minnesota House Transportation Finance Chairman Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) said he is disappointed the department is carrying on with the closure when as many as 200,000 people could be making their way into downtown Minneapolis for the Twin Cities Marathon, a Vikings game, a Twins game and a Gophers hockey game, all on Sunday.
“This is the latest example of a government action that defies common sense,” Torkelson said. “Certainly someone in a MnDOT office could have spent 10 minutes of their day analyzing weekend event schedules and determining when the greatest number of travelers would be impacted by a shutdown of I-35W. MnDOT literally scheduled this on the worst weekend of the year.”
I-35W between the Crosstown Hwy. 62 and I-94 in downtown Minneapolis will be closed until 5 a.m. Monday to allow crews to move utilities before the Franklin Avenue bridge is torn down next weekend.
Earlier this week Gov. Mark Dayton expressed "serious concerns" about the potential disruptions "on so many Minnesotans traveling to and from downtown Minneapolis and throughout the metropolitan area."
Torkelson noted that in some cases, the sporting event schedules were released a year in advance.
On September 14, 2016 the Twins announced they would be playing this weekend. The Vikings released their schedule on April 20 and the Minnesota Golden Gopher football team unveiled their schedule on May 12.
Of course, the closure affects more than those just going to sporting events, he noted.
“With just a minimum level of planning a few months ago, this project could have been moved to a different weekend,” Torkelson said. “Instead, hundreds of thousands of visitors can now deal with an unnecessary traffic nightmare at they try to cheer on their favorite sports team or marathon runner. MnDOT can and must do better.”
MnDOT has said it did look at the calendar and opted to go ahead anyway because the events have staggered start times and that not all motorists heading downtown will be coming from the south or using I-35W. The agency also said pushing the closure off a week would throw off the schedule and add "significant costs" to the $240 million rebuild of the freeway.
Last month, the agency began a four-year project to reconstruct I-35W between 46th Street and downtown Minneapolis. The entire I-35W rebuild includes reconfiguring the flyover bridge from northbound I-35W to westbound I-94, building a new transit station in the center of I-35W at Lake Street and replacing or refurbishing 18 bridges along the 3-mile segment. It also includes new exits at Lake and 28th streets, adding a MnPass lane between 26th and 46th streets. The project will run through 2021.