Let’s all collectively groan: Road construction season is here. But with the Minnesota Department of Transportation taking on a slightly less ambitious project schedule this year and with fewer motorists driving because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 construction season may be less disruptive than usual.
Even so, motorists will encounter orange cones and detours at 188 sites in the metro area and across the state as MnDOT forges ahead with over $1 billion in projects small and large over the next six months.
“It is critical that MnDOT continue its work to maintain and improve our state’s transportation infrastructure,” said state transportation Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher. “A safe, reliable and multimodal transportation system is essential to keeping our state running in times of crisis.”
County and city projects will ramp up, too, including work on the Dale Street bridge over I-94 in St. Paul that will close the freeway from Friday night to Monday morning.
This year, MnDOT will continue resurfacing I-35 in the Forest Lake area, rebuilding I-35W in downtown Minneapolis and replacing the I-35W bridge over the Minnesota River in Bloomington. Interstate 94 will get an asphalt overlay between Hwy. 280 and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis while new lanes will appear from Maple Grove to Clearwater.
Should air travel pick up when the coronavirus crisis subsides, a major redo of Hwy. 5 in Bloomington could pose difficulties getting to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The eastbound lanes between 34th Avenue and Fort Snelling will be closed from Wednesday to mid-July and westbound lanes from mid-July to October.
The agency will post construction updates on the website aroundtheairport.com.
In greater Minnesota, the long-awaited expansion of Hwy. 14 to make it four lanes from Owatonna to Dodge Center will get underway; a multiuse trail in Bena to improve pedestrian safety will be built; and Hwy. 2 will be resurfaced.
Meanwhile, the escape to cabin country could be hampered by work on I-35 that will have the freeway down to one lane in each direction between Harris, Minn., and the Pine County line Monday through midsummer.
And the drive on Hwy. 61 along the North Shore will be slowed by a reconstruction project in Grand Marais and resurfacing from Grand Portage to the Canadian border.
MnDOT created an interactive map at mndot.gov/construction to provide construction updates and help drivers plan their routes.
MnDOT also will work on 66 other projects around airports, ports, transit and railroads that are outside of the state road construction program, Kelliher said.
The coronavirus isn’t derailing transit projects. The Metropolitan Council’s construction of the $2 billion Southwest light-rail line running from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie is expected to remain on schedule.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced $25 billion in federal grants to help transit agencies nationwide combat the effects of the coronavirus, with about $226 million budgeted for the Twin Cities.
Major transit work includes tunnel excavation at Hwy 62 in Minnetonka and the Kenilworth Tunnel in Minneapolis, as well as construction of several bridges and stations along the 14.5-mile line. Service is expected to begin in 2023.
Construction of the 17-mile Orange Line, a bus rapid transit project connecting Minneapolis to Burnsville, continues as well.
In Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order issued last week, transportation, logistics and public works were deemed critical sectors and exempt from its reach.
But safety is of prime importance and may alter how some work is carried out.
John Raines, executive secretary-treasurer of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents 27,000 union members from Minnesota and five other Midwestern states, said unions have been working with contractors to ensure workers are safe at job sites.
The council has distributed information to members encouraging workplace practices such as staggering shifts, reconfiguring break space to promote physical distancing, and asking workers to monitor their health before clocking in.
“It has its challenges, but we’re making it happen,” Raines said.
Traffic on state roads has fallen as much as 60% since schools closed and many people began working at home after COVID-19 hit, but that poses a new danger.
“It kind of lulls us into going faster,” Kelliher said, noting that speeding through a work zone comes with a $300 fine. “Limit your trips out there, slow down and give the workers a break.”