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Traffic on 494 at Rockford Road

Star Tribune,

Solution to tie-ups on I-494 rests on shoulders

  • Article by: Tim Harlow
  • Star Tribune
  • February 4, 2013 - 11:59 AM

Plymouth has long wanted a permanent third lane on Interstate 494 between County Road 6 and the Fish Lake interchange where Interstates 94, 494 and 694 come together in the northwestern suburbs.

The city isn't likely to get its wish any time soon, but MnDOT is planning to add a "dynamic shoulder lane" to ease congestion.

In conjunction with a $34 million to $40 million road improvement project, MnDOT will widen the shoulders in both directions next year between Hwy. 55 and East Fish Lake Road. The shoulders will serve as additional lanes during peak traffic periods and can be opened to ease congestion caused by a crash, said Scott Pedersen, the west area manager for MnDOT.

"We were hoping for more general-purpose lanes," said Plymouth Mayor Kelli Slavik. "It's not perfect, but it's something, anything to get traffic moving and in motion rather than just sitting there."

The new shoulder lanes will be built while MnDOT puts down pavement between County Road 6 and the Fish Lake interchange and upgrades decks on bridges at Schmidt Lake Road, the Canadian Pacific Railroad and County Road 47.

Beyond this, MnDOT is conducting a long-range study to determine traffic needs on I-94 from Rogers to the Fish Lake interchange in Maple Grove, and along I-494 south through Plymouth and the southern suburbs to the Minnesota River.

"This is a higher-end preservation project that buys us 15 years of service life," Pedersen said.

I-494 was widened to three lanes in each direction south of I-394 in the early 2000s. It would have been logical to continue northward, Pedersen said. But plans surfaced identifying I-494 for a MnPASS lane, and the project stalled, much like rush-hour traffic does now.

That annoys many drivers, including one who wrote to The Drive and groused: "Imagine if MnDOT actually did something to change the situation on 494 through Plymouth and Maple Grove."

For now the solution to the congestion and frustration felt by the 100,000 motorists who use I-494 north of Hwy. 55 daily will be the dynamic shoulder lanes. A similar lane exists on northbound 35W between 46th and 26th streets. Motorists have to pay to use that lane. They would not have to pay to use the new lanes on I-494, Pedersen said.

Slavik said local streets have taken up the slack as drivers avoid the bottleneck by using Vicksburg Lane and County Road 101, roads not designed for high volumes of traffic. "That adds accidents and congestion" along with wear and tear, she said.

Pedersen said the dynamic lane will add flexibility and should take the stress off the local roads as drivers return to the freeway.

Slavik said she will continue pressing to get a permanent lane. "Until they pour the asphalt, I'll keep trying," she said.

FOLLOW news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.

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