A third lane of traffic on Interstate 694 is something that Shoreview has been awaiting for years, according to Mark Maloney, the city’s director of public works.
“It’s been a bottleneck for two or three miles, right through Shoreview,” he said.
So the city and its neighbors are relieved that a $42 million expansion project is on the way, set to begin in 2016.
It’s a big enough deal — indeed a big enough short-term headache — that state and local officials are preparing the way with the public this month, for what’s being called the “Enhance 694” project.
A public meeting is set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 22, at the Hampton Inn in Shoreview.
The new lanes will be “general purpose,” that is, for all users at all times, and not MnPass lanes, as some in the area believe.
Work will take place in Arden Hills, Shoreview and Little Canada as a third lane is added in the existing median, in each direction, between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue.
Maloney said that freeway backups got worse after the state made some regional freeway improvements, such as the “unweave-the-weave” where Interstates 694 and 35E meet east of Shoreview. He said it accentuated slowdowns in the area.
“We’ve watched as rush hour, so-called, grew to three hours, not one, in the afternoons,” Maloney said.
“This is an important stretch,” said Arden Hills Mayor David Grant. “It really does need an additional lane, as anyone knows who’s experienced the tie-ups at rush hour.
“It has been a big issue from the perspective of getting people to work, and for employers here and in other cities who need traffic flowing freely to get people to work and to recruit people.”
The project, set to finish by the fall of 2017, involves not only adding lanes but reconstructing the roadway between Rice and Lexington.
Workers will redo the ramps at Rice, Lexington and Victoria Street.
They will also open the right lane of the bridge from northbound Interstate 35E to westbound I-694, with the right lane becoming an exit-only lane to Rice Street, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Work will take place on noise walls, as well, Maloney said.
“They look real uneven and ratty looking, and all those will be blown out and replaced,” he said.
The project is yet another in a torrent of transportation improvements in the east metro, aggravating at the time but important nevertheless, he said.
“We had gotten used to assuming that major transportation investments happened in the south and west of the metro, and it’s nice to point to some real investment in an area that had gotten used to playing second fiddle,” Maloney said.