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I-694 commuters are riding out the construction

  • Article by: Shannon Prather
  • Star Tribune
  • July 23, 2013 - 3:31 PM

A month into a massive $21 million repair job on the Interstate 694 corridor, most drivers are simply gritting through the gridlock. There’s no good way around it.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) started repairs on I-694 in June, working on the major east-west corridor between Arden Hills and Highway 100 in Brooklyn Center.

There aren’t many good alternate routes, so drivers are waiting it out, literally at times. People say they are sitting in traffic longer. Streets in the area also seem a bit more congested as some drivers look for their own creative detours.

Jim Klipping said the construction has added 45 minutes in the truck each day. Klipping owns the landscape company Midwest LawnMasters.

“It’s a pain,” said Klipping. “It was needed, but it should be done in a more timely fashion.”

MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard said that the work is on schedule and that it will be worth the wait. It should be done before the snow flies — late October or early November.

“We’ve got additional congestion,” Barnard acknowledged. “The nice thing about this project is once we are done, hopefully we won’t be back out there for a long time. … We are working pretty much around the clock out there except on Sundays.”

Barnard, who lives in Anoka County and commutes through that stretch, said he understands the frustration firsthand but that this kind of road maintenance is unavoidable.

“We live in the type of climate that is harsh. The freeze-thaw cycle really affects the roadway,” Barnard said.

MnDOT asked companies around 694 to consider shifting workers’ schedules and allowing more telecommunicating to help ease up some of the rush-hour congestion. 694 sees 150,000 drivers a day. It’s gridlock during the morning rush hour but eases up considerably by 9 a.m.

Still, people seem to be keeping their cool, said Jack Serier, Ramsey County undersheriff for public safety services. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office provides police services for Shoreview and Arden Hills, two cities that Interstate 694 cuts through. Officers say they’re actually seeing less speeding.

“People are moving a little bit slower. There is not a lot of speeding or road rage to speak of,” Serier said.

Part of that could be that last year’s construction season felt worse, with a variety of county and state highway projects clogging roads.

“This is the second year of these construction phases. There was more construction going on last year,” Serier said. “Everyone has reached a new stasis as far as traffic patterns.”

The 694 project includes putting new decks on bridges at the 252/694/94 interchange in Brooklyn Center, patching concrete and joints, and grinding down and resurfacing the road.

Traffic is reduced to two lanes daily in each direction in places from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and to one lane each way from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. There are some intermittent ramp closures during construction.

Commuter Garrett Stone said he’s resigned to the fact that his afternoon drive on 694 is 30 minutes longer. He turns up the talk radio, sips a bottle of water and settles in for the long drive home.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s not forever,” Stone said.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804

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