Study says HOT lane could ease congestion on 35W in northern burbs

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2013 - 11:36 AM

Study results will be presented during open houses on Tuesday and Thursday.

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Congestion on Interstate 35W

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Just about every weekday morning, rush hour commuters heading south on Interstate 35W through Shoreview and Mounds View hit congestion between Hwy. 10 and I-694.

Going home, traffic snarls in the 35W/Hwy. 36 commons in Roseville and again to the north between New Brighton Boulevard (County Road 88) and Lexington Avenue in Lino Lakes.

The bad news is that if 35W is left in its current configuration, things are only going to get worse.

An additional 14,500 to 23,000 vehicles each day are expected to be on the freeway between downtown Minneapolis and Forest Lake by 2030, according to projections by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

With that ominous forecast, MnDOT commissioned a study to look at ways to reduce congestion, improve safety and mobility, increase transit ridership and how best to use available resources to preserve and replace aging infrastructure in dire need of repair and prepare future improvements at the same time.

Nothing is imminent as MnDOT is still exploring ideas on how to address the looming problem, said agency spokesman Kent Barnard. But the study does envision MnDOT building a High Occupancy Toll Lane (also called a MnPASS lane) running in both directions along the 27-mile stretch.

It also offers as possibilities making improvements to the 35W/694 interchange and the one from 35W to northbound Hwy. 10, creating better access to eastbound Hwy. 36 and adding a ramp to northbound 35W at Hennepin Avenue.

Officials from the North Corridor Coalition, the group that commissioned the study, will share findings during open houses this week.

The first is from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Blaine City Hall, 10801 NE. Town Square Dr., with a presentation at 5:30 p.m. The second is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, with a presentation at 11:30 a.m.

Counts show that about 128,000 vehicles use 35W near downtown Minneapolis each day. That number is expected to grow to 142,500 by 2030.

On I-694, numbers are expected to jump from 117,200 today to 136,200 in 17 years. North of Hwy. 10, traffic will grow from 63,500 to 86,700.

"These areas experience peak-period congestion under existing conditions, and results show that the duration and extent of congestion is expected to grow every year under a no-build condition," Barnard said.

Even with no definite plans drawn up yet, the study found that MnDOT could save up to $165 million by making the freeway ready for any future improvements when regular maintenance and construction projects are scheduled. That was done a few years ago on 35E through St. Paul and Maplewood even through a new HOT lane won't be built until 2014-15.

"Even if the HOT lane [on 35W] is not built for another 20 years, we can be ready for it," Barnard said.

"By doing things such as widening bridges now, we won't have to go back and do it again."

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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