DULUTH – The $343 million project to remake the messy "Can of Worms" highway interchange in Duluth is entering a new phase of traffic diversion, and drivers will have plenty of time to become used to the new layout on Interstate 35.
On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation began routing southbound traffic onto Lower Michigan Street from Garfield Avenue to W. 22nd Avenue, and the southbound exit to Interstate 535 and the Blatnik Bridge also has closed.
On Oct. 8, northbound traffic through the same stretch will move to the southbound lane, and the northbound exit onto I-535 will also close.
That configuration will be in place through next fall, and it allows two lanes of travel in both directions while year-round work on the Twin Ports Interchange project continues over the next several years. This year's bottleneck into one lane in each direction caused substantial backups during rush hour.
"It will be nice to have two lanes of traffic," Ellie Keen, a graduate civil engineer with MnDOT, said during a monthly project update Monday.
The project to rebuild the intersections of I-35, I-535 and Hwy. 53 began last fall and will be substantially complete by 2023, MnDOT says. Final touches on the project, which is meant to replace aging infrastructure and improve safety by removing left exits and blind merges, should be fully completed by summer 2024.
Work was beset by delays and cost overruns due to water and soil contamination discovered near the interchange. Two parts of the project — a fully rebuilt Hwy. 53 bridge over Lincoln Park and a new Garfield Avenue interchange at I-535 — have been indefinitely postponed as a result.
Numerous detours are in place now that the Hwy. 53 bridge has been partly dismantled and several exits have closed, though some trips will get easier in the coming weeks.
A closure on W. Michigan Street will be lifted by Friday, as will the on-ramp onto southbound I-35 from Superior Street.
The closed segment of W. Superior Street through Lincoln Park will reopen by next weekend.
Those looking to drive between Duluth and Superior should plan to use Garfield Avenue to get on the Blatnik Bridge or use the Bong Bridge for the foreseeable future.
Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496