As home to the state’s largest airport, busiest intersection and most heavily used transit station, Bloomington could be called the crossroads of Minnesota. Now the city wants the state to pony up for long-delayed improvements to transportation infrastructure that’s used by all Minnesotans.
The City Council this week formally approved requests for state funding totaling $84 million for an upgraded transit station at the Mall of America, a new on-ramp for Interstate 494 at East Bush Lake Road, and the first phase in a complete rebuild of the 60-year-old interchange at interstates 35W and 494.
“It’s time to quit dragging our heels,” said Bloomington Council Member Tim Busse. “We think these are three vital projects that need to get done sooner rather than later.
“These aren’t Bloomington-centric projects. There are many people across the metro region and across the state who are impacted by this infrastructure that isn’t up to par,” Busse said. “It’s not a matter of Bloomington trying to get ours.”
All three projects have been on the city’s transportation wish list in recent years, but state lawmakers have never put them into a completed transportation bill. The 35W/494 interchange is the busiest intersection in the state, carrying more than 250,000 vehicles a day. It was recently named one of the nation’s 20 worst bottlenecks by the Federal Highway Administration. The city is seeking $65 million for initial work on a project that could cost as much as $300 million to complete.
A westbound on-ramp to I-494 at East Bush Lake Road would reduce congestion on Hwy. 100 and serve growing areas of western Bloomington and Edina, officials said. The city seeks $8 million for that ramp.
And the Mall of America transit station is a dismal entry point for a metro area that’s competing on the world stage, Busse said.
“To call the current station ‘dank’ is being kind,” Busse said. “If we’re going to be welcoming people from across the globe for the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the Mall of America, we need to have a world-class welcome for a world-class destination.” The city is seeking $11 million for the station.
The requested improvements “are the sort of the fundamental government services that people expect the government to provide,” said state Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington. “Good for the Bloomington council for leading on this.
“Think of how frustrating it is. They run one of the biggest cities in the state. They have one of the biggest workforces that comes to work in the city. And they need the infrastructure to make it work. They’re rightfully frustrated.”
Lenczewski said the Legislature has been caught up in an ongoing debate about funding that’s prevented needed projects from being built. But she said there are signs of progress.
“Everybody at the Capitol is acknowledging that there is a need for transportation infrastructure,” she said. “For a while, there was a group that didn’t even acknowledge the need.”