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Drivers hit few snags on 1st day of partial Lowry tunnel closure

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.

Weekend traffic: With big festivals and major road closures, know your route

Motorists can expect major traffic tie-ups across the metro as the Minnesota Department of Transportation starts reconfiguring Interstate 94 in downtown Minneapolis just as tens of thousands of people will stream into the city for large events that include the Twin Cities Pride Festival in Loring Park and the Back to the 50s street rod extravaganza at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

The epicenter of congestion will be on I-94 at the Lowry Hill Tunnel (details below), but drivers in the suburbs won’t be immune to construction-related hassles with a new closure on Hwy. 169.

In downtown Minneapolis, there won’t be light-rail service between U.S. Bank Stadium and Target Field through July 3. Replacement buses will operate instead.

In St Paul, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival at Mears Park, a Lynx game Friday at 7 at the Xcel Energy Center and Saints games Friday through Sunday evenings at CHS Field will attract crowds and traffic. So will a Loons game Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium celebrations and parades in Roseville, Brooklyn Center, a food truck festival near Calhoun Square at Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue.

At least MnDOT has opened all lanes on Snelling Avenue between Como Avenue and Hwy. 36.

With all that going on, heed the advice of MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens: “Know your route.” Here is where you could find traffic jams this weekend (details below map):

Interstate 94 in Minneapolis and St. Paul

1. I-94 from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center: All eastbound lanes will be closed between I-394 and I-35W from 10 p.m. Friday until noon Sunday. Then, all westbound and eastbound traffic will be shifted onto the eastbound lanes with two lanes in each direction. The westbound side of the tunnel will be closed for 70 days. The ramps from westbound 94 to westbound 394 and Hwy. 55 will close Saturday night. The ramp from northbound I-35W to westbound I-94 closes Saturday morning. One lane from southbound Hwy. 252 to eastbound 94 is now open.

2. I-94 from St. Paul to Maplewood: Lane restrictions and ramp closures between Century Avenue and Mounds Boulevard.

Minneapolis

3. Cedar and Portland avenues: Closed between 28th and Lake streets.

4. Minnehaha Avenue: Closed between Cedar and Franklin avenues.

5. Hennepin Avenue: Closed Sunday from 3rd to Spruce streets for the Twin Cities Pride Festival parade. Third street also closed from Portland to Hennepin avenues.

East Metro

6. I-35E in St. Paul: Lane restrictions in the vicinity of Shepard Road.

7. White Bear Avenue in St. Paul: Closed between I-94 and Minnehaha Avenue

8. Hwy. 110 in Mendota Heights: Eastbound lanes closed between I-35E and I-494.

North Metro

9. Hwy. 96 in White Bear Lake: Overpass over I-35E closed 8 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday.

10. Eastbound 694 in Shoreview: Restricted to two lanes separated by a concrete barrier between Hwy. 10 and I-35E. The inside lane carries through traffic and drivers must continue east on I-694. The outside/right lane allows access to local streets and drivers must continue south on I-35E. Westbound traffic is down to two lanes. The ramp from Rice Street to westbound 694 closed until the project is finished in October. The ramp from eastbound 694 to Lexington Avenue is closed.

West Metro

11. Hwy. 169 in Edina and St. Louis Park: Northbound lanes closed between Hwy. 7 and Hwy. 55. The Nine Mile Creek bridge between Bren Road and Lincoln Drive/5th Street is closed and the highway is single lane between I-394 and Excelsior Boulevard. The ramp from westbound I-394 to southbound Hwy. 169 is closed through October. Ramps from Cedar Lake Road and to and from 16th Street to northbound Hwy. 169 are closed.

South Metro

12. 66th Street in Richfield: Closed to through traffic between Girard and Xerxes avenues S.

13. 86th Street in Bloomington: The overpass at I-35W is closed through October. Use 90th Street to cross.