Drivers who use Interstate 694 through Shoreview and Arden Hills should be cheering the news that the long-running construction project to add a third lane between Hwy. 10 and Rice Street will be done any day.
But the Minnesota Department of Transportation is not exactly getting a standing ovation.
Several commuters say the extra lanes in each direction stretching about three miles won’t go far enough to alleviate bottlenecks that develop during morning and afternoon rush hours, especially on the eastbound side. The freeway is still two lanes from the Hwy. 10 and Snelling Avenue interchanges over to I-35W, and drivers say the third lane should have been extended another 2 miles west.
“I do not think the new three lanes will make a difference,” reader Marc wrote in an e-mail. Recently traffic was stopped just after Silver Lake Road, so he got off at Long Lake Road.
“I took back roads the final couple miles. Most days 694 slows down considerable from Snelling to 35W when it is three lanes again. That has nothing to do with the construction and everything to do with the two lanes. Going from three lanes to two for 1.5 miles at most is a recipe for failure.”
MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard said the agency has had plans for six or seven years to complete the segment but had to put them on hold.
“We know that is the last piece,” Barnard said. “We will pull them off the shelves when funding becomes available.”
With the allotted $35 million, MnDOT did accomplish quite a bit in the north metro the past two years. Besides the additional travel lanes in each direction on I-694, the project added auxiliary lanes at Lexington Avenue and Victoria Street to handle exiting and entering traffic. There also will be a second lane to handle traffic coming off eastbound Hwy. 10 to eastbound I-694 and Lexington Avenue, all of which should help traffic flow, Barnard said.
The contractor has until Friday to get everything done and open all lanes. Crews late last week were putting the finishing touches on the concrete center median wall, the last major task. When that’s done and final striping is put down, the remaining cones and temporary barriers will be picked up and the freeway finally will be at full capacity. “It will be nice to have this project done,” Barnard said.
Drivers on I-35W have seen changes, too. In the past couple weeks, the new ramp from northbound I-35W to County Road H opened, as did a flyover bridge carrying traffic from westbound Hwy. 10 to northbound I-35W. The ramp from northbound I-35W to County Road I will reopen in November. The loop ramp from County Road I to northbound I-35W will not reopen.
“That was dangerous,” Barnard said, noting all the weaving that took place as drivers crossed lanes to access I-35W while other motorists veered right to get off on nearby Hwy. 10. “There were lots of crashes there.”
Fixes coming to Hwy. 280 ramp
Even with dry conditions, the ramp from southbound Hwy. 280 to eastbound I-94 is frequently wet (icy in winter), and drivers wonder why. Chalk it up to a drainage problem and a high water table. “That is the most awful ramp in the state,” Barnard said.
It will get attention soon. MnDOT plans to drain the water and route it to a storm sewer. Starting late this week, MnDOT will close the ramp while construction crews install additional drain pipes.
Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail email@example.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.