I-694 construction: Gridlock on Day 1, with worse to come

  • Article by: LYDIA COUTRÉ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 18, 2013 - 10:21 PM

Commutes were longer as a five-month, $21 million construction project got started on the north metro freeway.

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Motorists on Interstate 694 can anticipate more traffic similar to Tuesday’s. Above is westbound traffic as viewed from the NE. Main Street bridge in Fridley.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com,

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Day 1 of a $21 million construction project along Interstate 694 more than doubled many drivers’ commutes and had others scurrying to find alternate routes.

Frustrating as it was, officials said it could have been worse. And it may get that way soon: More lane restrictions and longer commutes are on the way.

Tuesday’s start squeezed only westbound lanes between East River Road in Fridley and Hwy. 100 in Brooklyn Center. Eastbound I-694 was narrowed Tuesday evening for the five-month project on the north metro freeway. Later this week, restrictions will be extended eastward to Interstate 35W, about a 6-mile stretch.

Garrett Stone was one of the Tuesday morning commuters who got a taste of what’s in store.

“It’s just kind of a hassle,” he said. The construction nearly tripled Stone’s usual 20-minute commute from New Brighton to Plymouth. He knew about the roadwork ahead of time and left half an hour earlier than normal.

“There’s not really an alternative route from where I’m at. I tried to find one, but it’s a lot of side streets,” Stone, 26, said. “It’s almost just as much time finding a way to avoid the traffic.”

Carlos Gee thought differently, weaving through some residential and side roads for his commute from South St. Paul to Brooklyn Center. He feels it’s better to be moving.

“I’m not a patient person, so I’d just rather not have to sit there 2 miles from work and sit there for you know, 30, 40 minutes,” Gee, 32, said.

His commute time was still more than doubled.

Not worse than expected

Even so, the regional transportation center reported that the situation wasn’t horrible, said Kent Barnard of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“It wasn’t perfect, but [an official] said it wasn’t bad,” Barnard said. “It wasn’t any worse than we had expected.”

The project is expected to be completed in early November. It includes putting new decks on bridges at the 252/694/94 interchange in Brooklyn Center, patching concrete and joints, and grinding down the road, which is a corridor for 150,000 drivers a day.

Traffic will be reduced to two lanes daily in each direction from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and to one lane each way from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. This project is on top of roadwork already underway from I-35W to Hwy. 10 to the east.

Wrestling with week one

“In general, the first week or so, a project like this is the most problematic for us because people have to get adjusted to the new lanes and the shifts of the traffic,” Barnard said.

John Siqveland, public relations manager at Metro Transit, said the detours the agency put in place to avoid the congestion appeared to “be working well to keep schedules operating normally.”

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  • I-694 westbound was backed up at a near standstill during Tuesday morning rush hour after it was narrowed to two lanes.

  • A view of afternoon rush-hour traffic on westbound Interstate 694 approaching East River Road in Fridley on Tuesday, Day 1 of a five-month construction project on the north metro freeway.

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