The Minnesota Department of Transportation and the state Department of Employment and Economic Development just announced a housewarming present for the Vikings as they're headed for their new home in 2016.
The westbound Interstate 94 ramp that enters downtown on 5th Street is going to be replaced. Or, rather, "repurposed," as the description of the project has it. A new configuration that will hook Interstate 94 into 7th Street, near where it meets Interstate 35W, is on the way.
Minneapolis public works director Steve Kotke said the existing exit from westbound I-94 curves north to 5th street to get into downtown. "If you look at the exit from 94, it's actually a straight shot to 7th Street," Kotke said. The city wants a new bridge built over Interstate 35W to get traffic more quickly into the downtown street grid.
This has been part of the city's Access Minneapolis Downtown Action Plan since 2007. But the state is now putting money on the table. The funding was awarded as part of the Transportation Economic Development program, a joint project of MnDOT and DEED. The state is putting $6.8 million dollars of trunk highway funding into the rebuild, according to program director Matt Shands. He says the total project cost is about $9.7 million.
It solves a nagging problem posed by the new, bigger stadium. Fifth street, as it runs along the south side of the Metrodome now, will be closed and built over as part of the stadium project. There's plans for a single westbound "counter lane" on 6th Street (a one-way, eastbound street now), but that counter lane isn't really intended to handle traffic coming off the freeway. For now, the 5th Street ramp just to the east of the stadium is the only way into "Downtown East," as the area is being called, via the freeway coming in from St. Paul. Simply closing it wasn't really an option either.
Plans now call for the city to convert the existing freeway crossing at 5th Street to a multi-modal link between Cedar-Riverside and downtown.
The grant is the second-biggest chunk of the Transportation Economic Development funding doled out this year. Highway 5 in Waconia will receive $4.5 million, and the Highway 16 and Highway 63 interchange in Rochester is getting $2.2 million.