A new view as worries mount over fresh influx of vehicles

  • Article by: Randy Furst
  • Star Tribune
  • August 31, 2007 - 11:38 PM

A few blocks from the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, Neal Reiter, 31, lamented the traffic congestion that now plagues his neighborhood on the edge of Dinkytown and fretted about more cars to come with the opening of University of Minnesota classes Tuesday.

"It's going to be terrible -- it has been since the bridge accident," Reiter, a university senior and caretaker at a 17-unit apartment house, said Friday.

Sometimes, he said, it takes 15 minutes to drive two blocks. "It's going to be nuts next week," he said.

One month after the bridge went down, killing 13 people, hundreds of people converged on the area to walk the 10th Avenue Bridge, which reopened Friday, offering a breathtaking view of the destruction from a newly created pedestrian walkway.

It was bumper to bumper on the bridge, a possible harbinger of congestion next week when, in addition to the university, the Minneapolis public school year begins, and people return to work after the Labor Day weekend.

"If you are going to any place in the northeast or southeast part of the city on Tuesday morning, add 15 to 30 minutes to your drive time," said Don Sobania, principal professional engineer in the Minneapolis Department of Public Works.

Though the university and the city are offering commuting tips and promoting alternatives to driving, Sobania said the public is going to have to become accustomed to traffic inconveniences.

"The bridge falling down is going to affect a lot of people's lives for a couple of years," Sobania said.

One state official is not anticipating a dramatic change Tuesday. "I don't expect a big mess," said Todd Kramascz, operations supervisor at the regional management transportation center at the state Department of Transportation.

'Bumper to bumper'

It has affected Rick Eidum's life.

A 55-year-old laborer, he drives to work at 8:15 a.m. these days, to get to his 9 a.m. job at Frank's Plumbing at 721 2nd St. SE., even though he lives only 2 miles away from the collapse site.

Eidum doesn't look forward to Tuesday's university opening.

"It's going to be bumper to bumper ... [it'll] probably look like sardines in the street," he said.

Campus officials were offering advice to would-be drivers.

"We recommend that they use alternative modes [of transportation] if possible because of the congestion from the 35W problem," said Mick Ramolae, assistant director of parking and transportation services at the university.

Lt. Chuck Miner of the university police suggested that if students are driving, they should add a half-hour to their commute time.

The city is urging people who go to work consider carpooling, biking, taking the bus or shifting their work day if their employer allows it to avoid rush-hour traffic.

"If you can do your work at home with a computer, it would be a good time to try that out," said Sobania.

Kramascz notes that since the collapse, a lot of drivers have been using alternative routes, rather than the suggested detour routes.

On Tuesday, he said, he expects the morning rush hour to start a little earlier, around 6:30 or 7 a.m., and last a little longer, perhaps until 9 a.m.

Campus authorities say one of the most congested areas on the campus is at the convergence of University and Washington Avenues and Oak Street. Road construction is underway in connection with the building of the Gophers football stadium, Miner said, but all traffic lanes may be open Tuesday.

Still, students are not looking forward to the commute.

"Traffic is going to be hell," predicted Zach Garry, 18, a university freshman, who encountered traffic tieups on Friday when he drove to Dinkytown.

"I'm thinking of driving in with a friend at 7 a.m.," said Emma Johnson, 20, a junior. "I think Tuesday is going to be rough."

To encourage more bus use, the university has lowered the monthly price of Metropass, an unlimited transit pass for faculty and students, from $64 to $45.

"We're saying to people, 'If you don't need your car, leave your car at home and take transit,'" said university vice president Kathleen O'Brien.

The Minneapolis campus has 900 fewer parking spaces because of the stadium construction, although there are two new parking lots being created, Ramolae noted.

Advice: Walk across bridge

Opening the 10th Avenue Bridge could help ease congestion somewhat, though it is now one lane in each direction, down from four lanes total. Sobania advised people to walk across the bridge, not drive it, if they are looking for a view of the collapse. He said there's nothing to see from a vehicle.

"I can't believe the destruction," said Brett Hodroff, 41, of Lindstrom, Minn., an auto mechanic who came out to look at it on his lunch hour. "It seems a lot bigger."It blows you away, it's awesome," said Don Beimborn, 67, a retired book publisher. "It makes me mad as heck. Our leaders let us down."

Josie Jimenez, 16, and her friend Alyssa Kramptiz, 16, of Rochester, came with Jimenez's mother and boyfriend to the State Fair on Friday but stopped at the bridge first for a look.

"It's scary," said Jimenez. "It reminds me of the Twin Towers."

Mike Kadlec, 29, a department manager at Target in Brooklyn Park, was taking photographs. "It's kind of scary to see something just twisted up like tinfoil," he said.

"I was down there," said Lindsay Petterson, 24, wearing a back brace and using a walker, pointing to a spot in the Mississippi River where her car plunged to the river bottom on Aug. 1.

Petterson had joined the spectators on the bridge with her parents and boyfriend. "I thought I was going to die," she said. "I was on my last bit of oxygen.

"I was completely underwater," she recalled. "I unlocked my seat beat." She said she was running out of air but suddenly must have floated through a broken window and found herself on top of the river, swimming to safety.

Lowell Petterson, her father, gazed at the fallen girders. "I think of all the people who died and didn't make it out," he said, "and how lucky we are that Lindsay made it."

Staff writer Jeff Shelman contributed to this report.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

Randy Furst •

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