Drivers facing the massive Interstate 35W construction project that starts Sunday will have some ways to evade the mess.
Acknowledging that drivers will try to cut down nearby streets and through neighborhoods, transportation officials are helping out: new stoplights for Arden Hills; in New Brighton, added dual left turn lanes; retimed traffic signals in Roseville. They’re among several ways the Minnesota Department of Transportation is prepping city and county roads for the overflow. The big uptick in traffic starts Sunday when the construction that will last until 2021 begins in the north metro on I-35W between Roseville and Blaine.
“We looked at what traffic might do and came up with ideas to help,” said MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard.
Over the next three construction seasons, MnDOT will spend $208 million to put a MnPass lane in the center of I-35W from County Road C in Roseville to Lexington Avenue in Blaine. The agency also will rebuild bridges at County Roads C and I, repave entrance ramps at several interchanges and put up noise walls at seven locations.
During that time, more than 136,000 motorists who use the freeway each day will have fewer travel lanes available, and roads that run parallel to the freeway will probably pick up the slack. MnDOT predicts up to 5,000 drivers on the northern end of the project will leave the freeway and use local roads that are within 2 miles of I-35W. Those numbers are expected to jump to between 12,000 to 15,000 vehicles on the southern end of the project, putting extra pressure on local roads in places such as Mounds View, New Brighton and Roseville.
Despite the efforts being made, officials are bracing for problems. “It’s going to be disruptive,” said Roseville City Manager Pat Trudgeon. “Drivers will need patience first and foremost.”
Drivers will get help from MnDOT, which this week launched a new website called www.dot.state.mn.us/knowyourroute. The site provides real-time road and traffic and construction reports about state roads and highways across the Twin Cities and the state.
MnDOT will announce its 2019 construction projects next week, but the agency has already revealed plans for several other large projects this summer. Among them are three others that will affect traffic on the I-35W and I-35 corridor. Those include resurfacing I-35 in Forest Lake, rebuilding the freeway in downtown Minneapolis and replacing the bridge over the Minnesota River in Bloomington. For drivers, that means orange cones, lane closures and backups along the 35-mile journey from the south metro to the far north metro.
Construction on I-94 will also hamper the getaway to cabin country. A 37-mile segment of the freeway from Maple Grove to Clearwater will be under repair until 2021 as MnDOT adds travel lanes, rebuild bridges and resurfaces deteriorating pavement.
Motorists will be eased into the I-35W North MnPass construction project.
From Sunday to April 7, lane closures will be limited to overnights in the areas of County Road E2 and Interstate 694 and between the southern junction of Hwy. 10 and County Road J. Crews will be paving temporary lanes that will be needed starting in mid-April, Barnard said.
The real pinch will come around April 8 when northbound I-35W will be down to two lanes from County Road C in Roseville to Mounds View Boulevard, also known as County Road 10, in Mounds View. Even more lane closures will kick in by late April and early May when traffic in both directions will be down to two lanes with narrow 11-foot widths most of the way between County Road C and Sunset Avenue in Lino Lakes.
“There will be short-term pain for long-term gain,” Trudgeon said.
Jennifer Fink, director of New Brighton’s Parks and Recreation Department, says there may be an upside.
With the Eagle’s Nest Indoor Playground also hosting the city’s farmers market this summer and more traffic passing by on NW. 10th Street, “we might see some more folks,” she said. “We understand this is a process for a long-term improvement.”