Predictions of epic traffic tie-ups on Interstate 94 in the vicinity of the Lowry Hill Tunnel in downtown Minneapolis didn't materialize Monday morning, but Minnesota Department of Transportation officials say they won't be complacent in their efforts to keep traffic moving.
Over the past few weeks and months, the agency has warned drivers of potential traffic jams in the area, telling them to take alternate routes and allow plenty of time. On Monday, it appeared drivers heeded that advice.
"We worked pretty hard to get the word out," said MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens. "Traffic moved along pretty well in the I-94 project area because people planned ahead and found alternate routes. We hope they continue to do that for the remainder of the project."
Commuter Nicole Schoeppner left for work an hour early Monday as she expected the worst. "Got to work in 6 minutes," she tweeted.
On Monday, motorists were sandwiched into two lanes in each direction inside the tunnel, sharing the eastbound side with 10-foot wide lanes and a concrete barrier separating traffic. Later this summer, traffic will be switched to the westbound lanes. It was the first weekday commute since the configuration was set up over the weekend.
While traffic levels were pretty typical for a Monday morning commute, drivers escaped major gridlock due to a lack of crashes or incidents in the tunnel and on nearby roadways, Aeikens said. That is in spite of several semitrailer trucks and vehicles more than 9,000 pounds that did not obey a ban on traveling through the Lowry Hill Tunnel where lanes are extremely narrow.
"We don't know if they didn't get or were just going through anyway," Aeikens said. "It's extremely risky with limited clearance, 10-foot-wide lanes and no shoulder. It would be easy to hit another car, the wall or the concrete barrier. We' appreciate it if they would stay out of the tunnel and use the detours."
Trucks are supposed to follow I-394, Hwy. 100, Crosstown and I-35W to get around the partial closure of the tunnel, Aeikens said.
While Monday morning's commute went relatively smooth for such a major construction project, he said it will take lots of cooperation by motorists to keep things rolling along over the next 3 months before the tunnel portion of the $46 million project wraps up in September.
"If people are taking another route today, I'd take it again (tomorrow)," Aeikens said. He worried that if people heard traffic moved well today, they might return to their normal route. "We thank them for that."
Even traffic on northbound 35W into downtown Minneapolis was moving well during the peak of the rush hour, despite the flyover ramp to westbound 94 near the downtown exits being closed. Some motorists did experience ramp jams on 11th Street off I-94 in downtown Minneapolis, however.