Summer construction in Minnesota is hard on a lot of people, but it's been really hard on drivers in the eastern Twin Cities metro area as a section of Interstate 35E in St. Paul is undergoing a major reconstruction.
The $230 million project aims to cut down gridlock between downtown Saint Paul and Interstate 694.
While new lanes are under construction, the old I-35E has two concrete-lined lanes running north and south for several miles that give drivers few options to exit. The construction zone is designed to allow commuters to move as quickly as possible between the north suburbs and St. Paul.
But for people living near the construction zones, it's a different story.
Before the construction along the corridor began, Judy Havel could hop on I-35E at Little Canada Road in Little Canada and be at her job just north of downtown St. Paul in a few minutes.
But the entrance and exits near her house are closed for construction, keeping her off the highway.
"My commute, luckily starts at 5 in the morning," Havel said. "So there's very little [traffic], but on the way home, sometimes it's not until 4, and it's crazy. My eight minute commute went to 25 minutes."
Havel may not know it, but she's part of a balance that the Minnesota Department of Transportation and its contractor Ames Construction have had to strike.
With exits closed, the contractor has to deal with less traffic, and can focus more on construction. That can save the department on the contract and shorten the project timeline.
"You do have the local roadway users and you have the regional roadway users," said Dale Gade, a MNDOT Engineer for Ramsey County. "You're trying to balance their different interests."
When finished in 2015, the stretch of I-35E will have more lanes, several new bridges and a replacement for a sometimes hazardous entrance near downtown.
The Pennsylvania Avenue entrance to I-35E from downtown will move north to Cayuga Street as the current entrance is too close to where I-35E and Interstate 94 connect.
"It was basically a hard merge," Gade said. "By moving the access issues over to Cayuga, it allows for those merge lanes and tapers to occur in a much more gentler fashion."
That new entrance is under construction. Transportation officials expect it to be finished in 2015.
Throughout the corridor, four overpass bridges have been replaced.
MNDOT also is working on a new interchange for I-35E and Highway 36.
One big reason for all the reconstruction is the addition of lanes dedicated to buses, carpools and MnPASS users. About 25,000 people pay to use MnPASS lanes on Interstates 35W and 394.
The lanes add enough traffic to carpool and bus lanes to help ease traffic in regular lanes, said Lee Munnich, a senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
"By and large, all the indicators that we have looked at have shown that the lanes have worked well," said Munnich, who has studied MnPASS Lanes. "My suspicion is that people will probably find it beneficial in that corridor as well."
By winter, MNDOT expects to have three lanes open in each direction, and reopen most of the ramps.
Despite the disruption to motorists, St. Paul City Council member Amy Brendmoen said she hasn't heard many complaints about traffic in her ward, which covers both sides of the corridor.
She hopes the new exchange at Cayuga Street will decrease gridlock and that the project helps with economic development in the corridor.
"I also think that it could open up some opportunities for some industrial development," Brendmoen said. "And we can always use that sort of tax base and in a lot of ways it's underutilized at this time. If that's a bonus, we'll take it."