Plymouth officials have long wanted the Minnesota Department of Transportation to build a third lane in both directions of Interstate 494 to ease the congestion that forms almost daily north of Hwy. 55. This week they learned that they might get their wish.

MnDOT had planned to build a "dynamic shoulder" as part of a $68 million freeway reconstruction and bridge rehab project set to start in July. That shoulder would be opened to traffic during peak periods.

But at this week's City Council meeting, Metro District Engineer Scott McBride said MnDOT will re-evaluate whether that shoulder or a general-purpose lane is the best option.

The rethinking comes from a change of plans for I-694 between Lexington Avenue and Rice Street in Little Canada. MnDOT decided that a general purpose lane there would be a better fix than the planned dynamic shoulder. That prompted officials to reconsider the plan for I-494 in Plymouth.

"It was the domino effect in that 694 and 494 are similar in traffic volumes and types of congestion," said McBride. "We said, 'If we rethink 694 we should re-evaluate our stance on 494.' "

McBride said a dynamic shoulder on 494 is still an option, and the biggest obstacle to a third general-purpose lane is the $25 million cost. He said this summer's project has been scaled back to buy time to study the options and come up with the money.

"That is one of the reasons for not just declaring this a done deal," he said. "We are tight on money."

This summer's work will include widening bridges and building crossovers in preparation for a bigger project in 2015, when either the dynamic shoulder or a third general-purpose lane would be built.

The prospect of a third lane brought smiles to council members. "The Plymouth City Council has said all along that a permanent third lane is the right solution," said Mayor Kelli Slavik. "Our primary goal is congestion relief, but we believe a third lane is in the best long-term interest of taxpayers, commuters and businesses that need to deliver goods and services."

By 2030, nearly 133,000 vehicles are expected to use the 6-mile segment of 494 between Hwy. 55 and the Fish Lake Interchange where 494, 94 and 694 converge. It is the only portion of 494 that lacks a third lane.

"We hope this review concludes that I-494 through Plymouth should have three lanes like the rest of the corridor and that a permanent solution should be implemented sooner rather than later," the mayor said.

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