The Drive: Happy days for Hwy. 10, I-694 commuters

  • Updated: December 2, 2013 - 10:59 AM

Commuters in the northern suburbs are downright gleeful now that the interminable North Central Interchange project in Arden Hills has been completed and they’re no ­longer zigzagging their way through the maze of concrete barriers and detours.

They are also ecstatic because MnDOT recently reopened the Hwy. 10 diagonal between Interstate 35W and Interstate 694.

Nevermind the rebuilt bridge decks, smoother pavement and the new configuration that keeps Hwy. 10 and I-694 traffic separated. Motorists who have endured daily traffic jams in the area for the past three years say the benefit from the $185 million upgrade they ­appreciate most has come in the form of shorter commute times.

“Love it!” Karen Holdsworth Stern said. “It won’t take me an hour to get home.”

When Hwy. 10 was closed, a ­traffic jam developed almost daily at the interchange where eastbound Hwy. 10 merges into southbound 35W. Between 7 and 9 a.m. on weekdays, traffic often stacked up to Lake Drive or Lexington ­Avenue. The drive from there to I-694 routinely took 20 to 25 minutes on the best days. In the past three weeks since Hwy. 10 reopened, the bottleneck has disappeared and drive times have dropped in half.

“Makes my morning commute much easier,” Aaron Booth said. “So far about 5 to 10 minutes shorter.” Said commuter Kelly ­Belford, “It’s great … it feels like everyone is on vacation because there is no ­traffic.”

It’s been a long three construction seasons (2011-2013) since MnDOT started the work on both directions of I-694 between Victoria Street and the Hwy. 10 interchange. The project included building new lanes to separate I-694 and Hwy. 10 traffic. The lanes now funnel traffic onto the respective roads and improve mobility by eliminating weaving that occurred in the old configuration when traffic coming off Snelling had to cross three lanes of traffic to get to ­westbound Hwy. 10.

The project also included rebuilding bridges between Snelling Avenue (Hwy. 51) and Victoria Street, installing new loops at Snelling and Hamline avenues, eliminating left exits and redesigning right exits to conform with new standards. New concrete was put down on Hwy. 10 and a ­partial interchange was installed at County Road 96.

Not everybody is impressed with the improvements. I-694 is three lanes to the west of 35W, but the freeway is only two lanes to the east from 35W to 35E.

“They went through all that work on 694 and failed to expand it to three lanes,” commuter Jeff Sullivan said. “The whole 494/694 loop should be three lanes at minimum everywhere by now.”

Katarina Hit said she’s just happy to have her roads back. For six months, commuters from Brooklyn Center to Arden Hills endured a hellacious summer as MnDOT conducted a major concrete rehabilitation project on 694 between 35W and Hwy. 252. That led to a series of rolling ramp closures and closed lanes that squeezed ­traffic. The $21 million project, which included resurfacing all ramps and loops, and replacing bridge decks at I-94/Hwy. 252 interchange, was completed in early November.

“It has been so nice having my quick and easy drive back,” Hit said. The closures “almost doubled my commute having to go around and take East River Road. It was a ­hassle.”

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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