Imagine being able to get off westbound Interstate 94 in downtown Minneapolis and not have to navigate around the Metrodome and the Government Center light-rail stop on 5th Street to reach destinations such as Target Center, Target Field and popular nightclubs in the Warehouse District.

Folks in the Minneapolis Public Works department sure can.

Their desire to replace the current 5th Street ramp with one at 7th Street and give motorists a straight shot through downtown hinges on whether the Minnesota Department of Transportation thinks the idea has merit.

MnDOT is evaluating applications for its Transportation Economic Development (TED) and Corridor Investment Management Strategy (CIMS) grants, which the department will award later this month. The city applied for both.

“The city has been interested in this for a while, but there has been no funding to make it happen,” said Steve Hay, a city transportation planner.

The dream is included in “Access Minneapolis,” the city’s 10-year action plan to address transportation needs and options. It also has been on MnDOT’s radar for the past five years since the agency’s downtown freeway study found that a ramp from I-94 to 7th Street would be “desirable.”

As drafted, the plan calls for the current 5th Street ramp to be closed and possibly repurposed as a street or a bike path to connect downtown with the West Bank. The new I-94 ramp would connect directly to 7th Street, which is designed to handle high-traffic volumes, Hay said.

Neither grant would cover the entire $9.7 million cost, but would go a long way to making the vision reality. TED grants award a maximum of $7 million per project and CIMS grants fund 90 percent. So even if Minneapolis gets either grant, the city will have to kick in some of its own money, Hay said. That would come to between $1.4 and $2.7 million.

There is stiff competition for the $20 million in TED grants, which are given to projects that have transportation benefits and create jobs, said Matt Shands, transportation economic development program director at MnDOT. Minneapolis is up against 14 other projects statewide, including six in the metro area.

This is the first year Corridor Investment grants have been awarded. Philip Schaffner, who oversees them, said he has $30 million to award and is reviewing 45 applications. The grants are given to towns, cities and counties that want to take on projects that MnDOT is unable to fund completely.

“As the highway system has grown larger and aged, more of MnDOT’s resources have gone into maintaining the system and there is less money for projects that communities want,” Schaffner said. The grants will fund projects that are deemed to improve the quality of life, he added. “They go beyond fixing pavement and bridges. We identify projects that give a high return.”

Hay notes that a new 7th Street ramp would have plenty of benefits for commuters. For one, it would direct traffic away from the new Vikings stadium, which will be built near the Metrodome site. It also would provide a more logical connection to downtown for drivers and for Metro Transit express routes, which currently come off I-94 and then divert to 7th Street or 3rd Street to continue their routes.


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