For drivers traveling on the Crosstown or Interstate 494 between Eden Prairie and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, rush hour can be a nightmare any day. Throw in a crash or snowstorm and it can instantly turn into gridlock.
None of that is lost on the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which has a come up a list of projects to mitigate congestion and improve safety on the two parallel south metro thoroughfares.
For starters, the agency in charge of state roads would like to add a MnPass lane on I-494. MnDOT also is looking at rebuilding interchanges and adding auxiliary lanes at pinch points along both routes to improve traffic flow.
It’s also dreaming of building a “flyover” bridge to carry traffic from northbound I-35W to westbound I-494 and open up one of the area’s most clogged interchanges. “If we had the money, this is what we would do,” said MnDOT spokeswoman Bobbie Dahlke.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a dime allocated for those projects. In case funding becomes available, MnDOT would like to know what drivers think are the most pressing needs. Let it know in an online survey through March 3.
Traffic counts show that on I-494 more than 143,000 vehicles pass by the airport each day and 94,000 use the freeway near the Hwy. 212 interchange in Eden Prairie. On the Crosstown, counts show 109,000 vehicles daily on the east end of the highway near the airport and 29,000 on the west end near the junction with I-494. Both routes see congestion four or more hours a day. Congestion is defined by MnDOT as when traffic moves at 45 miles per hour our slower.
Last summer, MnDOT asked motorists what improvements they would like to see along both routes. Those responses yielded a list of 14 possible projects. Those taking the survey now are asked to choose the ones they think will accomplish goals such as improving safety, providing for a reliable trip times, minimizing congestion, increasing access to transit and improving local roads.
Survey says ...
The survey puts respondents in the role of traffic planner, meaning they have to make choices and stay within budget. For example, if the I-35W/494 project was deemed the most important, that project would consume 90 percent of any money MnDOT would get to mitigate congestion in the south metro.
By contrast, an additional lane on both directions of the Crosstown between I-35W and Cedar Avenue would help improve traffic flow for much less money — say, about one-fourth of the overall pie, according to the survey.
The 35W/494 interchange was built in the 1960s and carries up to 290,000 vehicles a day. In 2015 the interchange was named one of the nation’s 20 worst bottlenecks by the Federal Highway Administration. So while a flyover bridge might seem like a no-brainer, its cost would mean “we would not get anything else,” Dahlke said.
With a lower-cost option, other money could be spent on extra lanes elsewhere, such as on eastbound Crosstown between Hwy. 169 and Hwy. 100 (congested five hours a day) or on eastbound I-494 between France Avenue and I-35W. With any dollars left over, money could be spent to rebuild the I-494 and Portland Avenue interchange and closing the 12th Avenue ramps, and add a second exit lane from eastbound I-494 to southbound Cedar Avenue.
“They can shape the outcome,” Dahlke said.
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