Star Tribune photo by Glen Stubbe
Drivers who use Interstate 494 in the south metro can get from Hwy. 169 in Eden Prairie to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in about 15 minutes. On a good day.
The problem is there are very few good days for the 150,000 to 180,000 motorists who use the freeway that runs through Eden Prairie, Edina, Bloomington and Richfield.
On many days, the trip during rush hour could take 30 minutes or more as traffic along what's called the "Bloomington Strip" jams for six to seven hours a day. It's one of the most clogged sections of freeways in the metro area, according to the MnDOT 2017 Metropolitan Freeway System Congestion Report.
Add to that, the I-494 corridor has higher crash rates than the state average for similar freeways. And it's home to the 17th worst bottleneck in the nation, the I-35W/I-494 interchange.
MnDOT has secured $134 million in Corridors of Commerce funding to add a high occupancy vehicle lanes on eastbound 494 from France Avenue to Cedar Avenue and on the westbound side from Cedar Avenue to I-35W. The agency also has $70 million to build a flyover ramp from northbound I-35W to westbound I-494 to improve traffic flow.
The MnPass lanes, which are reserved for carpools carrying two or more people, buses, motorcycles and solo drivers who pay a fee to use them, would be additional lanes and would not reduce the number of general purpose lanes, said project manager Andrew Lutaya.
But that's only a small part of grander plan to redesign the entire corridor.
MnDOT is currently seeking approval from the Federal Highway Administration and is currently conducting an environmental review. In addition the agency is collecting thoughts from drivers on what other improvements should be made to improve capacity and "dramatically improve the reliability of the average rush hour trip," Lutaya said.
MnDOT is asking motorists to take an online survey to identify other aspects that should the agency should incorporated into an I-494 redesign. The survey, open for 30 days, asks for input on such topics as traveler safety, travel times, pavement and bridge conditions and the importance of moving more people by transit.
In addition, MnDOT will have representatives out to gather feedback during public events. One is 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday Sept. 23 during Open Streets Minneapolis on W. 50th Street between Wooddale Avenue and Chowen Avenue. Representatives also will accept comments from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Bloomington Farmers' Market, 1800 W. Old Shakopee Road.
MnDOT also has to look at replacing storm sewers and fixing bridges as part of any plan. MnDOT would need additional funding to address needs beyond the flyover ramp and adding MnPASS lanes.
Construction is not likely to begin before 2022. But once it starts, it could last four or five years, Lutaya said.