Motorists who use the Rockford Road overpass to cross Interstate 494 in Plymouth know the trip can be challenging. Traffic piles up daily during rush hours, and crashes are common.

Relief, in the form of a new bridge, is finally on the way.

On Tuesday, the city of Ply­mouth, with Hennepin County and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, begins a $16 million project to replace the bridge with one that will be wider and safer and feature dual left-turn lanes at intersections on both ends, said Michael Thompson, Ply­mouth’s Public Works director.

“This is going to relieve capacity issues and bottlenecks and help [reduce] crashes,” he said.

The bridge was built in 1965. It has two lanes in each direction, but it does not have dedicated left-turn lanes for motorists traveling from Rockford Road onto I-494.

Traffic queues up behind the left-turning drivers, creating long lines that stretch across the bridge and beyond during peak travel periods. Impatient motorists weave in and out of traffic, passing on the right or trying to sneak through a red light, only to be hit from behind or T-boned, Thompson said.

Over the past five years, police have been called to an average of 33 crashes on the bridge annually, or approximately three wrecks a month, according city data. The crashes resulted in minor fender benders to serious injuries.

The bridge now handles 39,000 vehicles a day, which is 26 times the volume of traffic for which it was built. The new bridge is expected to improve traffic flow, Thompson said.

The new bridge will feature two traffic lanes in each direction, dedicated left-turn lanes and pedestrian and bicycle facilities on both sides.

Construction will occur in three phases:

Tuesday through June 28: Ramps from southbound I-494 to Rockford Road and from Rockford Road to northbound I-494 will be closed.

June 29 to about Oct. 4: The bridge itself will be closed and replaced.

Early October to early November: Ramps from northbound I-494 to Rockford Road and from Rockford Road to southbound I-494 will be closed.

“We see this as short-term pain,” Thompson said.

The bridge is owned by MnDOT, but Plymouth took the lead in the project, which has been identified as “one of the city’s top priorities,” Thompson said.

Last year, the west metro suburb was awarded $9.7 million in state bonding money. The city is kicking in $4.1 million, with Hennepin County chipping in $2.1 million and MnDOT $200,000.

It’s unusual that a city would push a project like this forward when the infrastructure is owned by another agency, but Thompson said it is becoming more common.

“Priorities of cities, counties and the state are not always aligned,” Thompson said. “Cities are able to jump in and solve problems, so for us this is a unique project. We were willing to go to bat and take on the risk.”

Cuts coming to Route 535

Metro Transit is ending weekend service on Route 535 starting June 8. Weekday service on the line running between downtown Minneapolis, Richfield and Bloomington will continue. The agency is dropping weekend service due to low ridership. Saturday and Sunday trips averaged five or fewer riders, Metro Transit said.

 

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