Spring is high season for open houses, not only for real estate agents but for representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, too.
The agency will hold 50 to 60 open houses in the metro area this year, with most of them in the spring and summer ahead of major road construction projects.
On Wednesday, MnDOT officials will be at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis to share details about a $6.9 million resurfacing project this summer on I-394 that will have a huge impact on commuters who drive between downtown Minneapolis and Hwy. 100. Frontage roads also will be redone. And with entrance and exit ramps closed at times and the Lyndale Avenue bridge out of commission for a couple of months, getting to businesses and neighborhoods near the heavily traveled freeway will be tough.
Open houses are MnDOT’s primary way of getting the word out about large projects and the traffic impacts they bring.
“Our ideal way to get information out to people is face to face,” said Kirsten Klein, a MnDOT spokeswoman. “If we are having a meeting, we have information we think people in the area should know about, and we encourage people to come.”
Even though not required by law, MnDOT holds open houses when the agency eyes improvements that will affect traffic movement. It’s currently looking at ways to make travel safer along Hwy. 169 between Shakopee and Belle Plaine. An open house will likely be held later this year, Klein said.
No limit on open-house topics
Open houses give stakeholders an opportunity to give their input and shape a project, Klein said. That happened in 2014 when MnDOT put in a Reduced Conflict Intersection on Hwy. 52 in at County Road 66 in Vermillion Township. Farmers and semitrailer truck drivers saw the original plans and were concerned the turn lanes would not be wide enough to accommodate large vehicles. MnDOT was able to widen the lanes.
The agency also holds open houses to inform business owners and residents before big projects begin. In January MnDOT held an open house ahead of this summer’s major Snelling Avenue redo that will start in May. The $9.5 million project includes replacing the I-94 overpass and repaving between Selby Avenue and the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. MnDOT also will hold an open house when cities or counties request them.
While often sparsely attended, open houses have advantages over online communication, Klein said.
Open houses can cover the impacts of several projects at once, like ones in Minnetonka held earlier this month that covered work to add a lane on I-494 through Maple Grove and Plymouth also touched on work planned on Hwys. 610 and 55 in the western suburbs.
Open houses allow attendees to ask questions, look at project maps and get ideas about possible detours and ways to get around. They also give MnDOT a chance to reach people not online, Klein said.
“We realize that the communication industry is evolving,” said Klein, who noted MnDOT will continue to use Facebook, Twitter, its website and e-mail lists that drivers can subscribe to to get information.
“It’s not just face to face, but we will always do face to face. We are always looking for suggestions on how to reach people, so send them our way.”