The $61 million project aims to ease northwest metro traffic jams by opening shoulders during rush hours.
West metro city leaders and residents, especially in Plymouth, have long appealed to the state to add a third lane on Interstate 494 from Hwy. 55 north to Interstate 694 — the only portion of 494 that lacks a third lane.
But until that happens, a temporary and cheaper fix is coming with a road project that will add wider shoulders, known as “dynamic shoulders,” for traffic during rush hours.
State transportation officials will meet with Plymouth, Minnetonka and Maple Grove residents and businesses next week to discuss the $61.5 million project. The Minnesota Department of Transportation sent out more than 10,000 invitations to businesses and residents for meetings at Plymouth City Hall Tuesday, Nov. 19 — the first of many public meetings before construction is slated to start in eight months.
But while Plymouth leaders welcome the temporary fix, they still are pushing for a permanent solution.
“We’re grateful there’s dynamic shoulders, but we want to look at what’s the long-term fix,” Plymouth City Manager Dave Callister said. “This section has been forgotten.”
Project has lots of parts
Starting in July, MnDOT crews will repave I-494 between I-394 and the Fish Lake interchange, where I-694, I-94 and I-494 converge. They’ll also repair 14 bridges and add noise barriers for homes and businesses if they vote to do so.
What is likely to be most significant to the estimated 95,000 commuters each day, however, will be the “dynamic shoulders” added in both directions between Hwy. 55 and East Fish Lake Road.
The wider shoulder will be opened to traffic during peak periods of the day, similar to a dynamic shoulder on northbound I-35W between 46th and 26th streets in south Minneapolis — although motorists must pay to use it there.
In the west metro, I-494 is clogged with traffic congestion as the northwest suburbs boom. By 2030, nearly 133,000 vehicles are expected to use the roadway each day.
“That corridor is just a huge corridor; it’s a main thoroughfare,” MnDOT spokeswoman Bobbie Dahlke said.
That traffic has pushed commuters onto city roads such as Vicksburg Lane, which Plymouth is planning to spend $20 million to upgrade to four lanes in 2015, Callister said.
“We’re putting our money down,” he said. “We’re trying to solve the state’s problem. But they’re shifting it to [us].”
In the early 2000s, I-494 was widened to three lanes in each direction south of I-394, and the work would have continued north, but plans surfaced identifying I-494 for a MnPass lane, stalling the project and leaving Plymouth with about 6 miles that have only two lanes in each direction.
“Plymouth was supportive of a third lane in Eden Prairie and in Minnetonka. … It’s been frustrating we can’t get it done [for ourselves],” Callister said.
MnDOT is conducting a long-range study that includes the needs for I-494 through Plymouth and the southern suburbs to the Minnesota River. But until then, Dahlke said, the dynamic shoulders and new pavement will buy MnDOT an extra 15 years.
Construction crews will work from next July to November 2016. The project, which was initially projected to cost about $40 million, has been expanded to include repaving ramps and bridge repairs, boosting the state-funded price tag to $61.5 million.