As four years of construction on Interstate 35W in south Minneapolis come to a close — the project between downtown Minneapolis and the Crosstown will be done Sept. 10 — the Minnesota Department of Transportation is prepping for the metro's next major freeway upgrade: Interstate 494 through Eden Prairie, Bloomington and Richfield.
The "I-494: Airport to Hwy. 169" project got a big boost July 1 when the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded MnDOT a $60 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant to improve traffic flow on the freeway between Hwy. 169 and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
"The grant is great news for the project," said MnDOT's David Aeikens. "It will help make I-494 safer, less congested, last longer and provide new and improved ways for walkers and bicyclists to cross the freeway."
The grant will cover part of the $304 million MnDOT will spend to build a MnPass lane in both directions between Hwy. 100 and I-35W, construct a new interchange at Portland Avenue, remove ramps and replace bridges at 12th and Nicollet avenues and put in new bridges and trails for bicyclists and pedestrians at Chicago, Portland and France avenues.
And it will offset the cost of the big-ticket item: rebuilding the interchange at I-35W and I-494, which annually appears on lists of the nation's worst freight bottlenecks. Plans call for a flyover ramp to carry drivers from northbound I-35W to westbound I-494 to help alleviate conflicts that lane weaving and merging cause.
"This is the highest priority for a roadway project in the region," said Steve Peterson, manager of highway planning for the Metropolitan Council, which co-authored MnDOT's application for the INFRA grant.
Trucks transport $16.4 billion of freight along the "Bloomington Strip" annually, according to MnDOT. With congestion present up to 10 hours a day, many of the 6,000 to 8,500 trucks using the freeway each day are stuck in traffic. The east-west corridor is a key route for commuters and for the 34,000 drivers from outside the metro area who use it daily to get to places like the airport and Mall of America, Peterson said.
"It has incredible reach," he said. The improvements "will be a benefit to the whole state and Upper Midwest. It will be great for the economy and travelers."
The project aims to improve safety, too. The corridor experiences a high crash rate, with more than 700 property damage crashes and four resulting in serious injury or death between 2018 and 2020, according to the Met Council.
Improving mobility along the 9 ½-mile segment is just one impetus for the ambitious project, which, like the work on 35W, will happen in four stages. It will start in 2023 with work on the flyover bridge and MnPass lanes and wrap up by the end of the 2026 construction season. By then, MnDOT hopes to extend the MnPass lanes east from 35W to Cedar Avenue.
The project will also involve rehabilitating some of the metro's oldest pavement, improving drainage systems to reduce flooding and runoff and preserving existing bridges, Aeikens said.
Ramps closing in Minneapolis
Heads up, drivers: Two key ramps in downtown Minneapolis will close starting Monday. The ramp from eastbound I-94 to northbound I-35W will be shut down through Friday. The ramp from 5th Avenue to northbound I-35W will be closed until Sept. 10.
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