Officials across the west metro are asking state officials for funding to help alleviate traffic congestion at the Interstate 494 and I-35W interchange straddling Richfield and Bloomington.
More than 290,000 vehicles a day take the asphalt cloverleaf, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Both freeways experience hours of congestion each day, and the interchange consistently ranks as having one of the worst crash frequencies in the state.
“For decades, the community has acknowledged that this interstate was underdesigned,” said Karl Keel, public works director for Bloomington. “It’s exceeded its capacity for many, many years.”
In 2014, MnDOT came up with a $300 million redesign of the interchange that would remove most of the inner loops and improve traffic efficiency. Bloomington submitted the first phase of that redesign earlier this year to a MnDOT program called Corridors of Commerce that allocates funding for highway improvements.
The first phase would cost $85 million, Keel said. The city also is seeking some smaller renovations, such as auxiliary lanes to reduce congestion.
The MnDOT funding program is expected to award $400 million for selected projects by the end of April.
“There’s a lot of interest in this program,” said Patrick Weidemann, MnDOT’s director of capital planning and programming.
More than a dozen legislators representing the I-494 Corridor Commission sent a letter this winter to MnDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle in support of Bloomington’s proposal.
“Improvements to the 35W/494 interchange would benefit hundreds of thousands of commuters, reduce the high crash frequencies, and improve distribution of goods,” they wrote Zelle.
According to the letter, construction could be done in conjunction with Metro Transit’s planned bus rapid transit route on I-35W between Minneapolis and Burnsville.
The interchange, which was built in 1959, was once named one of the worst highway bottlenecks in the country by the Federal Highway Administration. That congestion often bleeds into city streets and neighborhoods, Keel said.
He said he hopes the repairs will improve not just traffic issues in the city, but economic development in the surrounding commercial districts.
“This project has been in the radar of this part of the metro area for a long, long time,” Keel said. “Everybody acknowledges that we really need this project.”
Richfield City Council Member Michael Howard said the interchange is a “daily headache” for the commuters who use it.
“It’s challenging in that it’s such a significant project,” Howard said. “But if the answer is always that this is too big for us to bite off, then we’re never going to see any progress on it.”