Metro area drivers, get ready for a long, tough summer.
A spate of resurfacing, rebuilding and expansion projects will squeeze traffic on several of the area’s most heavily traveled routes, according to details about the $1 billion construction season that were released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The early arrival of warm weather has allowed crews to get started on some of the 290 projects on the agency’s “to do” list ahead of schedule, such as Hwy. 100 in St. Louis Park. In the coming weeks, cones and barrels will start popping up on roads and bridges that are in dire need of attention — and in the process eliminate traffic lanes.
“The bulk of this year’s projects are to replace the worn-out parts of the system, the parts that are deteriorating,” said Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle. “We are addressing the bottlenecks and areas that we hear about frequently.”
Among the high-profile projects is the addition of a third lane along Interstate 494 through Plymouth and Maple Grove. This summer, traffic will be moved to one side of the freeway with one lane in each direction. With the aid of a movable barrier, a second southbound lane will be available in the mornings, and second northbound lanes in the afternoons.
Motorists on I-394 will be routed onto reversible high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes between Hwy. 100 and downtown Minneapolis while the freeway is resurfaced. Westbound traffic will use the HOT lanes the last two weeks of June, and eastbound traffic will use them July 10 to 23.
Motorists won’t be able to cross I-94 using the Snelling Avenue overpass starting in May. The overpass will be redecked as part of a major rebuilding of Snelling north of I-94 to Pierce Butler Route. That project includes installing a new bus rapid-transit line along with sidewalk work, landscape and new pavement.
East metro drivers will feel the crowding on I-35E between downtown St. Paul and Little Canada Road while crews continue rebuilding overpasses and repaving the freeway preparing for a MnPass lane to be added along that stretch. Northbound traffic will be at three lanes for the summer, but southbound lanes will slimmed to two.
While most projects are aimed at preserving and maintaining state highways and bridges, a few are expansions that are part of the Corridors of Commerce initiative. In the metro, MnDOT is forging ahead with extending Hwy. 610 from Brooklyn Park to Maple Grove.
Economic obstacles ahead
This year’s slate of construction may be the most robust for the next few years unless the Legislature finds a funding mechanism to pay for future construction. The agency said it does not have enough money to keep up with the needs of the system, which has 4,000 bridges and 30,000 lane-miles of highways and freeways.
A report from the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee last year showed that MnDOT would get $18 billion over the next 20 years, but that it had projected a need of $30 billion to keep pace with state needs. Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed investing $6 billion over 10 years to help make up the shortfall. Other leaders are crafting plans to create dedicated and sustainable transportation funding.
“The forecasts for road and bridge revenue show a sharp decrease in available funding for next year,” Zelle said. “Add to that the fact that we see significant declines in our pavement and anticipate the need for much more bridge work after 2018. You can see the need for additional, sustainable transportation revenues.”
There’s also a need for motorists to slow down. Zelle said construction is disruptive but pleaded with motorists to be thoughtful, courteous and careful when navigating construction zones.
“A work zone is somebody’s office,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the State Patrol.