Normally, it’s not a big problem to close short segments of two one-way streets in downtown Minneapolis. But last week’s closing of parts of Park and Portland avenues was anything but normal. They created gridlock that entrapped just about anybody passing through the east end of downtown near the Vikings stadium.
Some drivers said they had to sit through four cycles of a stoplight before they could make it through an intersection, only to have to repeat that at the next corner.
The confluence of three construction projects and a misplaced detour birthed massive bottlenecks during rush hour on Portland, Park, Washington and Chicago avenues and along with portions of 3rd and 4th streets.
Northbound Park Avenue was closed between 4th and 3rd streets for utility work. (It’s supposed to be open again Monday.) During the closure, motorists were directed east on 4th Street, then onto Chicago Avenue or Norm McGrew Place to scoot over to 3rd Street and back west into downtown.
At the same time, southbound Portland Avenue was closed between 4th and 5th streets in front of the former Star Tribune building to allow a contractor to remove a tunnel that runs under the street. That detour put motorists onto southbound 4th Street, and right into the line of traffic being diverted around the Park Avenue closure.
The simultaneous closures and detours had traffic from all three streets — 4th, Portland and Park — converging on the intersection of 4th Street and Chicago Avenue, where the stoplight forces long waits because it favors light-rail trains even when no trains are coming, said Tim Drew, a city of Minneapolis traffic engineer.
For two days, traffic stacked up for blocks on surrounding streets as far away as Hennepin County Medical Center on 6th Street. In a year that has seen commuters beset by the most construction in 15 years, last week’s tie-ups were enough to send some commuters over the edge.
“Minneapolis puts the interests of businesses first rather than the commuting citizens,” one reader said in an e-mail to the Drive. “Their long-range planning doesn’t take the traveling public and the daily commutes that we endure into consideration.”
Actually, it does, Drew said.
“We analyze the impacts to all users of the street and determine the best solution,” he said. “Ultimately, we need to strike the right balance between the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, transit riders and drivers who use on-street parking. After implementation, we monitor and make any adjustments that may be warranted to improve travel.”
By Wednesday, the city moved the Portland closure up to 3rd Street to divert traffic away from the area. It placed signs along routes feeding into Minneapolis warning drivers of the closures. And in an unusual — but not unprecedented — move, the city deployed traffic control agents at key intersections on 5th Street and at 3rd Street, at the contractors’ expense.
Denying the contractor’s request to close Park and Portland at the same time would delay the completion of projects until next spring. Another reason the simultaneous closures were allowed is that repaving the streets after the underground work is done needs to be completed while the weather is still warm, and before the Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 4.