Road construction season will be one of the busiest ever

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

This year's Minnesota road construction season will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, on record.

Minnesota Department of Transportation officials today released the details of many of the 283 projects for the construction season.

The list includes routine repair and maintenance to major expansion and rebuilding projects.

Roadway delays and detours will be shared widely across cities, suburbs and rural areas, but it's likely they will be most pronounced in the Twin Cities.

"This will be the busiest year we've had in the Metro area," said MnDOT metro district engineer Scott McBride. The district covers an area that covers 8 counties, 2.5 million residents and 64 million vehicle miles driven each day.

Twin Cities motorists will encounter a major freeway resurfacing project between the state's two largest cities along with a major south suburban interchange rebuilding project.

"[We will be] resurfacing Interstate 94 from Highway 280 to Western Avenue in St. Paul while constructing a new interchange at Highway 101 and Highway 13 in Savage," said MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel.

That I-94 resurfacing project will take two years, this season and next, and includes lane reductions, but only a handful of freeway closures on weekends.

Drivers trying to escape the Twin Cities construction season misery by heading north will encounter a major resurfacing and bridge replacement project the next two seasons on Interstate 35 as it passes through Duluth on the way to the North Shore.

The box score for this year's state road construction season amounts to this: 283 projects costing $1.3 billion.

About a third of the money comes from regular federal funds -- mostly the federal portion of the gas tax.

About 15 percent of the money comes from federal stimulus spending, and about 13 percent comes from state funds, mostly the state portion of the gas tax.

The largest portion of the money, about 40 percent, is borrowed by way of issuing state bonds that of course must be repaid.

This year's road building season total is larger than in the past, in part because state lawmakers a couple of sessions ago approved a transportation bill that included a gas tax increase over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto.

Pawlenty was asked at the MnDOT press event today what the transportation spending picture this year might have looked like if lawmakers hadn't overridden his veto.

"You know if we didn't have the gas tax, our view is we would have done it in other ways, including the bond initiative we had in 2003," Pawlenty said.

That initiative relied heavily on borrowing.

Democrats support borrowing as well, but they also say the borrowing has to be balanced by raising taxes.

MnDOT selected today's press event location, a parking lot next to the Interstate 169/494 interchange in Eden Prairie adjacent to Edina and Bloomington, to tout a big project that doesn't really start moving dirt until next year.

The $172 million rebuild of the interchange will remove three stoplights, something Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said has a time saving payoff: "The complete elimination of two to three hours of a.m. and p.m. peak congestion at the interchange."

A powerful coalition of city and business leaders have long lobbied for the 169/494 interchange rebuild as among other things a way to speed development in the area.

On the other, hand there are plenty of transportation observers including Transit for Livable Communities acting executive director Barb Thoman, who lamented the gush of money for a single project when so much else needs to be done.

"There are concerns across the system in regards to just maintaining the pavements and bridges we already have," Thoman said. "We also believe people in this region really want more transportation options so rather than adding to what is really a large regional highway system compared to our peers, we really need to accelerate the build-out of our regional transit system."

There will be lots of new orange cones sprouting on Minnesota roadways with the start of the construction season.

One the other, hand orange cones will mostly disappear at two long-running projects, the completion in November of the Crosstown interchange rebuild in south Minneapolis, and the Wacouta bridge expansion in the eastern Twin Cities in July.

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