North metro drivers, rejoice! Major congestion relief is on the way.
The Minnesota Legislature in the waning days of the 2023 session passed bills awarding more than $100 million to Blaine and Anoka County to fix traffic-riddled Hwy. 65 and $30 million to add a third lane on a portion of Hwy. 10 through Coon Rapids.
"It's a huge win," said Joe MacPherson, Anoka County transportation engineer, noting city and county leaders have been pushing to get the money for years.
In December, Congress passed its fiscal 2023 omnibus spending bill that allocated $9 million to upgrade Hwy. 65, a north-south thoroughfare that carries as much traffic as nearby Interstate 35W.
Officials say they still need about $20 million for Hwy. 65, but with the new state and federal money the project is "absolutely happening," said Blaine City Engineer Dan Schluender.
Plans still have to be updated and finalized, and the city and county must acquire about 60 parcels of land before construction could start in 2025.
Blaine and Anoka County will tag-team on the $166 million Hwy. 65 project, which aims to reduce crashes and congestion while improving transit and pedestrian and bicycling facilities between 97th and 117th avenues NE.
The work includes removing traffic signals at four intersections and replacing them with underpasses or overpasses that would include on- and off-ramps with roundabouts. Some access points that don't have stoplights will be closed and new frontage roads will be built to connect motorists with the new interchanges.
Sidewalks and biking trails will facilitate safer crossing of Hwy. 65, which splits the state's 10th largest city in half, officials said.
When complete in 2028, the highway will operate much like an expressway, which could lead to more consistent commute times.
And fewer crashes, too: Last year, Blaine police responded to nearly 160 crashes on Hwy. 65 between 89th Avenue and 131st Avenue, with a majority of the mishaps happening on the three-mile stretch that will be rebuilt, according to police department data.
"This is a very much needed safety improvement for everybody who drives on this road," said Blaine Mayor Tim Sanders. "A reconstructed Hwy. 65 will be transformational for Blaine and the entire north metro region."
With just two lanes in each direction, driving on Hwy. 10 in Coon Rapids during rush hour can be a frustrating experience, too. Bottlenecks can rival those that form on Hwy. 65.
Anoka County has been working on plans to build a third lane between Hanson and Round Lake boulevards and should have work complete by the end of the year, MacPherson said. A construction date has not been set.
This summer, MnDOT will finish upgrading Hwy. 10 through Anoka, and the new lane in Coon Rapids "completes our work in Anoka County," said County Commissioner Scott Schulte, calling it "monumental."
The bills also provided $1 million to add missing connections at the Hwy. 610 and East River Road interchange.