Motorists who normally travel Hwy. 36 through North St. Paul are getting some good news just in time for the Labor Day weekend -- a portion of the closed highway reopened Friday evening. The highway had been closed for reconstruction since May 1 as part of a year-and-a-half project. But construction crews finished the eastbound side of the four-lane roadway nearly a month ahead of schedule. So the Minnesota Department of Transportation will open a single lane of traffic each way between White Bear Avenue and Hwy. 120 (Century Avenue).
Vehicles will be able to exit from the eastbound lane to McKnight Road. There will be no other access to or from McKnight Road at this time, officials said.
NOT QUITE FINISHED
The entire highway is expected to be open to four lanes of traffic before Thanksgiving, when the new westbound lanes are done.
A BIG DECISION
MnDOT had never closed a key commuting route for so long. About 40,000 drivers a day use the highway. Agency officials decided to close the entire stretch of roadway following a survey of commuters, area residents and businesses last winter. Closing the roadway entirely allowed the department to save money, improve safety and do a more thorough job, said Kent Barnard, a MnDOT spokesman. "It's much safer for the public and for the workers to not have to work around traffic," he said. "And we're able to get in there and work longer hours."
Although they're getting only a single lane in each direction, life should be easier now for commuters.
"It's going to relieve some of the traffic that's been going on the Unweave the Weave project [the I-694/I-35E interchange]," Barnard said. The construction company benefits, too. By finishing one side so quickly, Barnard said that Progressive Contractors will earn a financial incentive.
"I don't know what it was per day," Barnard said of the $27.5 million contract. "But they get the max."