It’s not pretty now, but improvements are coming to Snelling Avenue in St. Paul: A new bus rapid transit line, better sidewalks and lighting, and a new road for motorists.Work started Monday with the closure of the Snelling Avenue bridge over Interstate 94, which shifted commuters onto nearby north-south thoroughfares. The official MnDOT detour takes drivers along University Avenue and Marshall Avenue to Cretin Avenue and Vandalia Street.

This weekend, crews will knock down the Snelling bridge deck. To do that, I-94 will be closed from 10 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday between Hwy. 280 and I-35E.

Along with the bridge over I-94, eastbound ramps to and from Snelling were closed Monday. A section of Concordia Avenue also closed. Businesses along Concordia and other affected side streets remain open, and MnDOT is developing maps to direct customers to parking lots, said spokeswoman Kirsten Klein.

St. Paul police said Monday morning’s traffic was smooth considering 35,000 to 38,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge.

“It’s going to take three to four days for people to get used to it,” said Sgt. Paul Paulos.

MnDOT says it hopes to have the $9.5 million project and the new bridge deck in service in time for the State Fair opening in late August.

The overpass will be redecked as part of a major rebuilding of Snelling north of I-94 to Pierce Butler Route. The bridge is more than 40 years old but is not being replaced.

“It’s more of a maintenance thing,” Klein said. “It’s kind of like having to reshingle your house. It will extend the life of the bridge.”

The project includes building station platforms for the new bus-rapid transit line and updating pedestrian crossings to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project also calls for replacing some sidewalks, adding decorative street lighting and landscaping medians.

Tim Harlow