The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s massive reconstruction of Interstate 35W from downtown Minneapolis south to 43rd Street hit a milestone last week: the $240 million project is now 30 percent complete.
With that achievement, motorists will regain a key access to downtown from I-35W to 11th and Grant streets. The ramp reopens at 5 a.m. Monday, though it will be only a single lane, not the three lanes motorists enjoyed before the heavily used ramp closed in June. Drivers won’t be able to access 5th Avenue S.
Also reopening Monday is the ramp from westbound I-94 to southbound I-35W, which has been closed for 10 days to allow MnDOT to prepare for a traffic switch. Motorists on southbound I-35W have been shifted onto new concrete on the west side of the work zone and will pass under a new bridge near 24th Street.
Late last week, MnDOT returned westbound I-94 to its three-lane configuration, which should help reduce bottlenecks that have plagued commuters for the past four months as the freeway was slimmed down to two lanes from Chicago to Portland avenues.
“That is where we have had the most complaints,” said MnDOT spokesman Dave Aeikens.
While the pressure will decrease, the changes won’t bring an end to travel disruptions in the area. Even with the ramp to 11th Street reopening, it will only be able to carry about a third of its previous capacity, Aeikens said. MnDOT recommends drivers continue to use the ramp from northbound I-35W at 3rd Street or the alternate routes they’ve been taking all summer. He encouraged those who opted to take public transit to stick with it.
“We are still recommending the bus and the train,” Aeikens said. “We still need drivers to be patient and exercise good driving habits.”
Transit riders will benefit with the restricted opening of the ramp from 12th Street and 4th Avenue to southbound I-35W. Buses headed out of downtown will have the ramp all to themselves, meaning no more trips down Portland Avenue to 31st Street in lanes that were reserved for them but often were clogged with disobeying drivers. Motorists will still need to access southbound I-35W at Washington Avenue or 4th Street.
More changes are on tap as the “35W@94: Downtown to Crosstown” project shifts into the next stage. MnDOT plans one more weekend shutdown between downtown and the Crosstown. That’s likely to be Nov. 9-12, when the 28th Street bridge is set to come down.
New bridge for Rockford Road
Plymouth city officials say plans are on track to build a new, wider and safer Rockford Road bridge over I-494 next summer. It’s needed, and “it’s been a long time coming,” said Michael Thompson, Plymouth’s director of public works.
Built in 1965, the existing bridge does not have dedicated left-turn lanes and sees 39,000 vehicles a day, or 26 times the traffic level when it was built. Traffic jams form daily, and the interchange averages 33 crashes a year, from fender benders to serious wrecks, Thompson said.
Last spring, the Legislature allocated $9.7 million for the rebuild. Plymouth and Hennepin County are partnering with MnDOT on the $14 million project. Final designs are in the works. The city plans to hold an open house in the winter to provide updates on the project, he said.
Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail email@example.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.