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Centerpoint Energy requesting flaggers to help with 3rd Avenue gridlock

Traffic heading north on 3rd Avenue during evening rush hours has been horrendous all week largely due to a Centerpoint Energy project between Washington Avenue and 2nd Street.

With lanes closed, traffic has backed up into downtown, creating gridlock on 3rd Avenue and some cross streets as motorists try to make it through an intersection before the light turns red.

At times, traffic unable to make it all the way through has blocked intersections, causing frustration for motorists stuck in traffic and unable to cross 3rd Avenue. Even light rail trains have been inconvenienced by obstructing drivers.

It is illegal to block an intersection or a crosswalk.

The utility on Thursday said it is requesting flaggers to be out to direct traffic. Flaggers in construction speak is an off-duty police officer. Centerpoint would pay the cost for the police presence, said spokeswoman Becca Virden,

The goal is to keep traffic moving a well as possible while work on replacing a steel gas pipe continues.

Third Avenue at the intersection of Second Street is down to one lane of traffic in each direction. The utility hopes to finish its work by the weekend and have all traffic lanes open by Monday or Tuesday.

Centerpoint Energy is mandated by the Federal government to replace aging lines and more intersections will be impacted as the summer rolls on.  One of the biggest will be the intersection of 5th Street an Nicollet Mall, That work will begin sometime later this summer ahead of the big re-do of Nicollet that is supposed to begin in 2016.

Texting: New transportation bill increases fines for repeat offenders

In case you missed it, a provision in the omnibus transportation finance bill signed into law last week by Gov. Mark Dayton increases the fines for drivers who are caught texting for the second time.

The fine for the first offense is $50, but that has risen to $225 for subsequent violations. With court costs, the fine could exceed $350, said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis.

"We hope that will be deterrent to a very dangerous practice," said Hornstein, who co-authored the provision with Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan.

As a reminder, the law makes reading, composing or sending emails or text messages illegal. It's also against the law to access the Internet while a vehicle is in motion or part of traffic, including stopped at a traffic light.

Drivers with a permit or provisional driver's license are not allowed to be on the phone while driving, except to call 911 for an emergency.

Last year, 3,200 drivers were issued citations for violating the state's texting and driving law, according to state records.

In April, Minnesota law enforcement officials cited 909 drivers in a six-day period in a campaign conducted by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety.

Each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one in four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety.