A new shortcut has opened to the Home Depot and Target stores at E. 66th Street and Hwy. 77 in Richfield, providing some traffic relief for nearby residents.

The two-block-long stretch of blacktop is shaped like an elongated “S” and links Bloomington Avenue coming south out of Minneapolis to the street in front of the Cedar Point Commons shopping complex. When that street is replaced, it will become Richfield Parkway.

The shortcut is expected to carry about 2,500 cars a day, some of which used to traverse the more residential stretches of Bloomington Avenue on their way from south Minneapolis to get to the stores.

After Cedar Point Commons opened in 2007, residential areas to the west were swamped with traffic as drivers looked for shortcuts or tried to avoid a nearby roundabout. After homeowners complained, the city used concrete barriers to block shopping center traffic from entering nearby streets.

Mike Eastling, Richfield’s director of public works, said the shortcut project is one of several that will ease traffic congestion created by recent construction projects and changes in the area, including elimination of a heavily used frontage road off Hwy. 77.

“People were driving down residential streets, and that’s what triggered this; it was the cut-through issue,” he said. “A direct connection off Bloomington Avenue … makes a more direct route. It just works better that way.”

Part of the new stretch of road is built as a parkway, with narrower lanes split by a raised median. That drops the speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. The median will be planted with trees or other vegetation, which softens the look of the road and also tends to slow traffic.

In front of the shopping complex, the street that was formerly 17th Avenue South will become Richfield Parkway and will have similar features. The city of Richfield now owns all 14 empty houses on the west side of the street. Three single-story houses could be moved and are available for purchase, but the rest are too tall to be relocated because of bridges in the area.

Last week, local fire departments used some of those houses for practice drills, putting out blazes in various locations inside the buildings. Eastling said those that can’t be moved will be demolished.

Construction on Richfield Parkway in front of Cedar Point Commons will begin in the spring and is expected to be open by midsummer. That section of road is expected to carry about 5,000 vehicles per day.

Eventually, a regional trail that runs from the south side of Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis through Richfield to Bloomington will run along the parkway.