A proliferation of weekend road, lane and ramp closures will force motorists to be creative in finding new routes.
Traveling around the Twin Cities this weekend? Well, not so fast.
Really, it won't be fast.
A collision of construction projects will make some drivers in and around the Twin Cities feel stymied at every turn. Motorists, especially those in the east metro area, will be detoured, squeezed and slowed by road and lane closings along some of the area's busiest corridors. And for those trying to escape the construction chaos, beware of highway ramp closings and the crush of drivers who end up on the same alternate routes.
As for those wanting to jump on light rail in downtown Minneapolis -- you'll be jumping on a bus instead while crews work on the downtown section of the Hiawatha line. Route 55 buses will substitute for light-rail trains between the Target Field and Franklin Avenue stations from 6:30 p.m. Friday to 3:30 a.m. Monday.
But relief is in sight as completion draws near on some projects expected to give motorists smoother rides, safer roadways and more real-time, on-the-road traffic information.
"We have a very short construction season here in Minnesota," said Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kent Barnard. "These projects go at a certain set pace, and they have to meet certain deadlines. ... And a lot of these projects reached that point where closures were necessary at the same time."
The timing, however, might not be so perfect for motorists who have to navigate the detours and lane closings on major roadways, including segments of Interstate 94, I-35E, I-35W, I-494, Hwy. 65, Hwy. 52, I-694, Hwy. 169 and Hwy. 10. Even off the major highways, orange construction cones will dot roads such as University Avenue, which is undergoing a retrofit for a new light-rail line.
"People don't want to be inconvenienced, is the big issue," Barnard said. "But we have to get the work done. If we don't get it done, we're really going to hear from people because then we're going to have a bad roadway. So we're trying to get it done and get it done as quickly as possible. And, yes, we are very aware of the inconvenience because we're driving the same roads that everyone else is."
For the past several years, construction zones seem to have proliferated, bringing work commuters to a crawl and making the exodus to the lake Up North not so pleasant.
"We've had some pretty large projects the last two or three years -- I-94, the Crosstown, the 169-494 project, to name a few," said MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht. The number of projects next year might be lower in comparison, he said, but summertime will always mean road construction.
Faster commutes ahead
Miffed motorists can take heart that some large projects are coming to an end. For example, the two-year I-94 rehab project between Minneapolis and St. Paul will be officially done by the end of July, when crews turn on dozens of electronic signs that will help manage traffic and provide real- time information to drivers, said MnDOT spokesman Todd Kramascz.
The signs, known as "smart-lane" technology, already operate along I-35W between downtown Minneapolis and Burnsville. After the signs along I-94 are turned on, motorists will be alerted to road hazards, slowing traffic and closed lanes via electronic messages and illuminated red and green "X"s over lanes.
"They'll help reduce crashes and reduce road congestion," Kramascz said.
Other projects are merely moving into another stage. For example, this weekend's closings along I-94 and I-35E are part of continued construction of the Central Corridor light-rail line. The project required similar weekend closings in May; this should be the last weekend closing this summer, Kramascz said.
In the meantime, MnDOT officials said motorists can reduce the amount of fist-pounding on the steering wheel by working out alternative routes if their weekend road trips run through construction zones.
And then take a deep breath. "People need to be patient," Barnard said. "They need to give themselves plenty of time and be patient with their fellow motorists."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788