For construction-weary motorists still in the throes of the Lowry Hill Tunnel and Interstate 94 refurbishing project in Minneapolis, here’s news that might have you pounding your dashboard if you aren’t already: In about a month, the Minnesota Department of Transportation starts on another major construction project that will affect downtown commuters for the next four years.

It’s drivers who use Portland or Franklin avenues who will feel the pain first.

The rebuilding of Interstate 35W from downtown Minneapolis to 43rd Street is so massive that it will be carried out in five stages, with the first starting as soon as MnDOT approves the deal with a trio of contractors who have teamed up to carry out the $240 million task.

It includes reconfiguring the flyover bridge from northbound I-35W to westbound I-94, building a new transit station in the center of I-35W at Lake Street and replacing or refurbishing 18 bridges along the 3-mile segment. It also includes new exits at Lake and 28th streets, adding a MnPass lane between 26th and 46th streets, ripping out the original pavement, which was put down in 1965 and doctored up all these years, and pouring fresh concrete.

In the first phase, running from August of this year through April 2018, MnDOT will be doing prep work, and with that comes notable closures for two heavily used routes. The Portland Avenue bridge over I-94 will be closed for eight weeks. It was just a few years ago Portland drivers gutted out a summerlong detour as MnDOT put a new deck on that bridge. This time the agency will remove one pier and rebuild it to accommodate a new auxiliary lane to carry traffic from eastbound I-94 down to Lake Street. The work will be done on the underside of the bridge, so drivers won’t see much going on. But project manager Scott Pedersen said MnDOT can’t allow traffic on the bridge while the work is being done.

Dusty, noisy days ahead

Portland Avenue drivers can commiserate with motorists who use the Franklin Avenue bridge over I-35W. That east-west crossing also will close until next April, which will make getting from one side of 35W to the other a lot more challenging. A couple alternates include 26th and 28th streets. But not 38th Street. That overpass also will shut down during phase one.

The ramp from westbound I-94 to 11th Street also closes during phase one. Motorists heading downtown may want to opt for 7th Street.

This has been a confounding summer with the ramp from northbound I-35W to westbound I-94 shut down as MnDOT works in the Lowry Hill Tunnel and on I-94 out to Brooklyn Center. Consider it all a warm up for next spring when the 35W flyover ramp will close again. So will the ramp from eastbound 94 to southbound 35W. And the real kick in the pants is that northbound I-35W downtown exits, namely 5th Avenue and 11th Street, also will shut down, leaving drivers heading over to 3rd Street or Washington Avenue.

For those around in the late 2000s for the dusty, noisy redo of the 35W/Crosstown Commons interchange, “this will be similar to that,” Pedersen said, noting there will be lots of lane shifts ahead. In the end, drivers will get new pavement and bridges. With better access to and from 35W at Lake and 28th streets, neighborhoods should see less cut-through traffic, he said.

Can motorists endure four more years of cones and detours to get there? Let’s hope so.


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