Planners behind an overhaul of Interstate 35W through most of south Minneapolis are pressing the Legislature this year to avoid “seven years of torture” by closing the last gaps in funding.

The complex, $345 million series of projects would rebuild aging pavement and bridges, add two new exits off 35W and erect a major transit station in the middle of the freeway at Lake Street. They are being planned in conjunction with the Orange Line rapid bus project, which will feature frequent all-day service from Burnsville to downtown.

But timing is a major concern.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation faces a 2018 deadline to replace structurally deficient bridges near the I-94 commons, with additional plans to rehab 35W from 42nd Street to 32nd Street starting in 2017. Between those projects are the new transit station, bridges and ramps at Lake Street, which still need $25 million in state bonding dollars.

Hennepin County Engineer Jim Grube warned business leaders at a breakfast Friday that four years of construction could become “seven years of torture” if the projects don’t happen simultaneously.

“How do you build $345 million on the freeway and make this work without creating chaos?” Grube said. “We’re going to create chaos. Our hope is that it’s controlled chaos.”

The Orange Line project needs an additional $12 million in state funding in order to apply this August for the federal funding expected to cover half of the $150 million cost. About $52 million of that budget is dedicated to the station at Lake Street.

The Lake Street portion of the project has been evolving since the 1990s. It includes several bridge replacements and new exits northbound to 28th Street and southbound to Lake Street, in addition to the transit station. There will also be a new connection between the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street at Stevens Avenue.

“It’s always good when there’s new connections to the greenway,” said Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

But Jensen worries about the new freeway decks that will loom over Lake Street, which he said create a dark, unpleasant space for walkers — reminiscent of Hiawatha Avenue to the east.

“There doesn’t appear to be much public art or green space,” Jensen said. “It looks like an awful lot of concrete.”

Crystal Windschitl, executive director of the Phillips West Neighborhood Organization, wants to know who will take responsibility for maintenance of the new greenway connection.

“I don’t think the [connection] is necessarily a good thing,” she added. “I think its providing space for people to hang out at and do illegal activities.”

The $150 million Lake Street project is being funded by MnDOT, Metro Transit, Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis. But the $25 million in bonding dollars are needed to cover half of the city and county share.

Gov. Mark Dayton did not include the project in his $1.4 billion bonding proposal this January, but city of Minneapolis lobbyist Melissa Lesch said she expects those projects to be wrapped up in a larger transportation bill. “We absolutely do not take that as any kind of commentary on the project,” said Lesch, noting that bonding proposal was largely devoid of transportation items.


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