Plymouth city officials have long wanted the Minnesota Department of Transportation to build a third lane in both directions of I-494 to alleviate congestion that forms almost daily north of Hwy. 55. This week the west metro city learned that it might get its wish after all.
The city had been told that MnDOT would build a dynamic shoulder as part of a $68 million freeway reconstruction and bridge rehab project set to start in July. But at this week's City Council meeting, Metro District Engineer Scott McBride said MnDOT will re-evaluate whether adding the wider shoulder that would be opened to traffic during peak periods of the day only is the best option.
MnDOT had planned on adding a dynamic shoulder lane on I-694 between Lexington Avenue and Rice Street in Little Canada, but found that adding a general purpose lane there would be a better fix. That prompted officials to rethink the plan for I-494 in Plymouth.
"It was the domino effect in that 694 and 494 are similar in traffic volumes and types of congestion," said Metro District Engineer Scott McBride. "We said, if we re-think 694 we should re-evaluate our stance on 494."
McBride said the option of a dynamic shoulder on 494 is still on the table, and the biggest obstacle to building a third general purpose lane is finding $25 million to pay for it. He said this summer's construction project has been scaled back to buy extra time to study the options and come up with the money.
"That is one of the reasons for not just declaring this a done deal," he said. "We are tight on money. When we looked at our checkbook, that is when the idea of a dynamic shoulder lane" came up.
This summer's work will include widening bridges and building crossovers in preparation for a bigger project in 2015 when either the dynamic shoulder or a third general purpose lane would be built.
The prospect of a third lane brought smiles to council members.
"The Plymouth City Council has said all along that a permanent third lane is the right solution," said Mayor Kelli Slavik. "Our primary goal is congestion relief, but we believe a third lane is in the best long-term interest of taxpayers, commuters and businesses that need to deliver goods and services."
By 2030, nearly 133,000 vehicles are expected to use the 6-mile segment of 494 between Hwy. 55 and the Fish Lake Interchange where 494, 94 and 694 converge. It is the only portion of 494 that lacks a third lane.
"We hope this review concludes that I-494 through Plymouth should have three lanes like the rest of the corridor and that a permanent solution should be implemented sooner rather than later," the mayor said.