Minnesota Department of Transportation officials say they will review policies that govern when lanes can be shut down after lane closures for a sign replacement project on the Mendota Bridge led to massive traffic jams during Wednesday's morning commute.
The unexpected closures of the right lanes on both sides of the bridge over the Minnesota River had grumpy commuters caught in big back ups on the eastbound Crosstown and on westbound Hwy. 55 and 110 and wondering why a sign replacement project could not wait until rush hour was over.
"You have completely [fouled] most of rush hour today with your Hwy. 55 Mendota bridge work," Adam Wilson tweeted Wednesday. "Why wasn't this done off hours?"
According to the agency's manual, the contractor replacing overhead signs is allowed to shut down lanes during peak travel periods as long as lanes are not closed within 500 feet of a traffic signal. "The contractor was allowed to close a westbound lane on the bridge," said spokesman Nick Carpenter.
The same held true for the eastbound lane closure.
While eastbound traffic on the Crosstown stacked up from 28th Avenue over to the Fort Snelling area, bigger bottlenecks developed for westbound traffic. Traffic on westbound Hwy. 55 was near a standstill as far back as Mendota Heights Road near I-494 and drivers on westbound Hwy. 110 got stuck as far back as I-35E.
MnDOT did open a second westbound lane about 8:30 a.m. to help ease the traffic jam.
Westbound motorists already are dealing with the ramp closure to eastbound Hwy. 5/W. 7th Street, which is down to one lane on W. 7th Street between Hwy. 55 and Shepard Road because of bridge construction.
Crews on Wednesday were setting concrete for steel posts that will be installed in the coming weeks. In wake of Wednesday's traffic jam, MnDOT said it would have two eastbound lanes open for the evening commute but said one westbound lane would be closed until 6 p.m. Both westbound lanes will be open during Thursday's morning rush hour, Carpenter said.
In the future, "we will be modifying the lane closure manual to avoid future peak-time lane closures on Hwy 55 like the one this morning," Carpenter said.