A busy year for highway and bridge construction

Road construction between Minneapolis and St. Paul
Once again this construction season the largest road and bridge project is the $288 million rebuilding of the Crosstown commons in south Minneapolis entering its third construction season with completion set for next year.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

There is always a pain and pleasure quotient to the annual MnDOT announcement of road construction season.

The pain is measured in countless miles of detours and hours of delay for drivers.

It's no picnic for the construction workers either. Besides the threat to their lives and limbs from inattentive or impatient motorists, there's the engineering challenge of doing the work.

MnDOT deputy commissioner Khani Sahebjam cited two examples. One is rebuilding a tricky stretch of U.S. highway 169 in northern Minnesota's iron mining country and the big disruption down the middle of St. Peter in southern Minnesota.

Gov. Pawlenty meets with MnDoT officials
Governor Pawlenty, MnDOT deputy commissioner Khani Sahebjam, MnDOT metro district engineer Scott McBride at an agency maintenance facility in Richfield say the 2009 road and bridge construction season in Minnesota is more than 200 projects valued at $1.4 billion, with some of the largest projects carried over from previous years.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

"We had some challenges with abandoned underground mines that have been collapsing and we had to strengthen those and shore up our roadway up there...and we're doing a project through the city of St. Peter which will basically tear up that town going through it," he said at today's announcement.

However once the orange cones and detour signs are gone, there'll be very nice results for drivers everywhere, Sahebjam said.

Nowhere is the pleasure more anticipated than at the Devil's Triangle in the northern Twin Cities suburbs of Brooklyn Park and Osseo where county highway 81 and U.S. highway 169 come together.

That is one of the region's least driver friendly areas and it is finally being rebuilt, according to MnDOT metro engineer Scott McBride.

"The grade separation of the major roadways will improve one of the most congested signalized intersections in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This project began in July of 2008 and when completed in July of 2011 will significantly improve safety and mobility for our travelers," McBride said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty used the MnDOT construction announcement event to point to the level of transportation investment during his administration.

"There's been more money infused into road and bridge construction in the last six years than any other comparable time in Minnesota history," Pawlenty said.

The governor downplayed the effects of the transportation bill passed last session by lawmakers over his veto.

"That hasn't really ramped up that dramatically yet, it might someday," he said.

Margaret Donahue, the executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance says last session's transportation bill is very important.

Crosstown Highway
The Crosstown/I-35W interchange is in the middle of a multi-year rehab project. As part of that, all lanes of the Crosstown (Hwy. 62) will be closed this weekend.
MPR photo/Tom Weber

Lawmakers approved spending $6 billion on roads and bridges over the next decade financed mainly with higher user fees and borrowing. Annual MnDOT construction budgets the next few years will rise dramatically.

However there are big questions about how to deal with slipping gas tax, motor vehicle sales tax and vehicle registration revenues, Donahue said.

"Those user fees that we rely on, we're not sure how strong they're going to be out into the future, and so both at the federal level and the state level we need elected officials who understand the importance of improving safety, the importance of fixing our aging roads and bridges and who understand these investments will create jobs," she said.

The value placed by MnDOT on the this year's road and bridge construction season is $1.4 billion. Federal stimulus dollars supply about $500 million of the total.

Later this month officials will announce the fate of several large Twin Cities road projects including the 610 extension and the U.S. 169 and I-494 interchange rebuild.