Work on I-94 will squeeze downtown St. Paul for two summers

Tim Harlow, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Motorists in downtown Minneapolis have been dealing with construction on Interstates 94 and 35W for the past three years. Now, drivers in St. Paul get to feel their pain.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will be working on I-94 between Western Avenue and Mounds Boulevard and on I-35E between I-94 and University Avenue for the next two summers. This week, the agency will hold two online open houses to lay out the project, from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday and 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesday. Registration at bit.ly/3xisIkv is required.

"Construction won't be quite as extensive as in Minneapolis," said MnDOT spokesman Kent Barnard. "But it can be as easily disruptive."

Drivers will feel the squeeze when MnDOT reduces the freeways to two lanes in each direction as crews repair deteriorating pavement and resurface the road. And for much of the summer, and resuming again next spring, key ramps leading to and from downtown will be closed, a fact anybody heading to the Xcel Energy Center, Ordway Center, State Capitol or celebrations on Harriet Island will want to note.

The Capitol Interchange, where I-94 and I-35E meet and the freeways run together, is one of the busiest in the state and prone to congestion. With concerns about major traffic jams, MnDOT put up billboards to announce the project, notified trucking associations and sent nearly 5,000 mailings to nearby homes and businesses. The hope, Barnard said, is that drivers will find alternate routes.

"Any reduction in traffic helps congestion," he said.

The $27 million project also will remedy water seepage issues along the westbound side of I-94 through the project area, add new stormwater drainage ponds and replace railings on some bridges and some freeway lights and signs.

Hennepin's road cleanup returnsVolunteers cleaning ditches and roadsides in Hennepin County may find them filled with more litter than usual this year.

The county this spring resumed its Adopt-A-Highway program after giving participating church, school, civic, family and neighborhood groups a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Groups typically pick up about 5 tons of trash each year collectively, said Brant Kough, who oversees the program. But because many roads have not been cleaned for quite a while, there has been more time for fast-food wrappers, plastic bottles and other whatnots drivers have thrown out their windows to pile up. Once in a while, groups find mattresses, tires or appliances, Kough said.

The county recently sent letters and e-mails to groups to let them know the program has resumed.

"It's important because it's an eyesore when you drive around and see [roadsides] covered with trash," Kough said. "It's helpful for the community, and it gets people together for a cause."

Volunteer groups are required to participate for two years and commit to going out twice a year. The county supplies trash bags and picks them up. It also supplies neon vests to help keep participants safe.

There seems to be lots of interest in keeping roads litter-free, Kough said. Hennepin County has 248 road segments covering about 500 miles in its Adopt-A-Highway program, and "they are all spoken for," he said.

But he's always ready to put groups wanting to help keep roads tidy on a waiting list.

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.