Traffic crept to a sluggish pace in parts of the Twin Cities on Saturday as weekend travelers were forced onto planned detours around Interstate 35W so construction crews could begin rebuilding one of the metro’s main thoroughfares.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation closed I-35W between Crosstown Hwy. 62 and Interstate 94 in downtown Minneapolis to allow crews to move utilities before the Franklin Avenue bridge is torn down next weekend. That stretch of freeway will remain inaccessible until 5 a.m. Monday.

To avoid the hassle, south and west metro drivers heading downtown navigated multiple road closures by taking Hiawatha Avenue or Hwy. 100 to east I-394. In St. Paul, I-35E was down to one lane in both directions for maintenance work.

By 2:30 p.m. Saturday, following a University of Minnesota Gophers football game, I-394 westbound slowed to a crawl as motorists tried to head home.

A 6:10 p.m. Twins game against the Detroit Tigers and a Wild hockey game at the Xcel Energy Center will put pressure on auxiliary roads Saturday night. For motorists heading from the east and southeast, Hwy. 61 to I-94 could be a viable detour.

MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said the agency was closely monitoring the situation, but placed the impetus on drivers to plan ahead. Gutknecht advised those heading downtown to plan alternate routes, check the state’s 511 travel page and leave early for events.

“If everybody waits until the last minute to go to the game, then they’re gonna have problems,” he said. “It’s better to spend your time waiting outside the stadium than in your car on the road.”

“We regret the inconvenience and understand that it’s difficult for people,” Gutknecht said.

Sunday will be the real test for travelers, when three major sporting events and the Twin Cities Marathon are expected to draw more than 200,000 people to downtown Minneapolis. The Vikings and Twins each have afternoon games, while the Gophers men’s hockey team plays at Mariucci Arena at 5 p.m.

Minnesota House Transportation Finance Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, criticized MnDOT’s decision on Friday, saying he is disappointed the agency carried on with the closure on one of the busiest traffic weekends of the year.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton also expressed concerns about the potential disruptions “on so many Minnesotans traveling to and from downtown Minneapolis and throughout the metropolitan area.”

In August, the agency began a four-year project to reconstruct I-35W between 46th Street and downtown Minneapolis. The entire I-35W rebuild 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 and adding a MnPass lane between 26th and 46th streets.

The project will run through 2021.

 

Staff writer Tim Harlow contributed to this report.