Minnesotans longing for warmer weather might want to remember it comes with a trade-off: road construction season.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on Wednesday released its list of road and bridge projects planned for the rest of the year, with its delays, detours and disgruntled motorists, especially for those headed north to cabins.
“Normally, we wait until spring for our construction kickoff,” quipped MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle.
MnDOT plans 253 projects across the state worth $1.1 billion — some of which are underway, part of complex, yearslong efforts to repave roads, repair bridges and bolster bicycle and pedestrian amenities.
“Some of these roadways haven’t been reconstructed in 50 years, and some bridges are well over 40 years old, so their maintenance is due,” Zelle said.
Major projects in the metro include upgrading Interstate 35W between downtown Minneapolis and the Crosstown. This will involve expanding MnPass lanes, adding a station at Lake Street for the proposed Orange Line bus-rapid transit line and two new exit ramps there, and rehabilitating roadway, bridges, sidewalks and noise barriers.
The $239 million project will be done in five stages and won’t be complete until 2021. “This season it kicks into high gear,” said Michael Beer, MnDOT’s Metro District engineer. The underlying pavement, he noted, is 52 years old, and more recent blacktopping has deteriorated into a patchwork of potholes.
Another ongoing project sure to confound cabin-obsessed metro residents headed north this summer involves resurfacing 6 miles of Interstate 35 from the split at Forest Lake to just north of Hwy. 8 at the Chisago-Washington county line. The $50 million project is expected to be completed by October 2019.
One of the bigger bridge projects mentioned by MnDOT officials Wednesday was the replacement of the Hwy. 63 bridge over the Mississippi River at Red Wing — work is expected to wrap up by summer of 2020.
And perhaps the most-popular bridge project in the metro area involves converting the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge into a bicycle-pedestrian thoroughfare by June 2019. Initially built in 1931, it spans the St. Croix River connecting Stillwater to Wisconsin.
MnDOT Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Sue Mulvihill acknowledged this spring’s persistent cold weather and snowy conditions shorten the construction season. “I remember years where actual construction began April 1,” she said. “With this weather and spring it will be even shorter, but maybe we can extend it into late fall.”
In addition, Zelle highlighted 49 other projects valued at $32 million involving airports, ports and railroads.
As legislators return to St. Paul next week, Zelle called the long-term transportation funding picture “bleak compared with the system’s needs.”
Last year, MnDOT received an additional $640 million in highway bonding money from lawmakers for the next four years, as well as $164 million in cash. This infusion reduces the state’s annual $600 million transportation funding gap by $200 million annually over the next four years.
But by 2022, another $600 million annual funding gap will crop up, Zelle said.
The need to preserve the state’s roads and bridges grows, but “we simply don’t have the funding to cover it all,” he said.