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Summer highway construction snags west metro commutes

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MnDOT traffic camera: I-394 at I-94
MnDOT's interstate traffic cameras show plenty of intersections -- like this junction of interstates 394 and 94 is -- under construction this summer.
Photo courtesy of MnDOT

Commutes in the Twin Cities west metro area have been glittering with brake lights and punctuated with the sounds of heavy machinery this summer. Major construction projects are underway along Interstates 494 and 394 and Highway 100. 

While the projects are nothing but pain for commuters like Chase Youngblood, who drives from Robbinsdale to downtown Minneapolis each day, MnDOT says different road construction techniques could make construction less common in the future. 

"It's disappointing that they did the whole West Metro at the same time," Youngblood said Wednesday after another slog of a commute. "494, 100 and 394 all in the same summer kind of makes everything on that side of town absolutely ridiculous."

Contractors are hard at work removing asphalt, grinding concrete pavement and reconstructing the Lyndale Avenue Bridge along I-394, the busy commuter artery out of downtown Minneapolis. 

The project pushes westbound commuters into the high-occupancy toll lanes, causing major traffic jams during rush hour. At the end of the month, motorists heading into downtown from the west will shift into the toll lanes. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says the impact on traffic should lessen by mid-August.

MnDOT also is in the middle of two three-year projects on Highway 100 and sections of I-494 near Plymouth.

"We're trying to get it done as fast as we can," said John Griffith, MnDOT's west area manager. 

MnDOT meeting
John Griffith, MnDOT Metro District west area manager, shows Jane Weiner of Edina how Hwy. 100 construction projects might affect her daily commute to Blaine. Griffith and Weiner met at a MnDOT meeting on the construction project Wednesday.
Peter Cox | MPR News

The roads need repairs every few years, he said. Eventually, they all ended up happening in the same summer this time around.

But there's a silver lining, Griffith said: This round of construction is designed to extend the time between the next ripping-up and repaving.

On I-394, Griffith said, crews are removing all the asphalt, leaving the concrete.

"What we're doing now hopefully gets us into a 10- to 15-year window that we have to come back in, so we're not coming back as often," he said. "It's actually saving us money. It is a much better fix that we're putting out on 394."

At a public meeting about the construction projects Wednesday night, Griffith explained the Highway 100 work to commuters like Jane Weiner, who lives in Edina and commutes daily.

Weiner teaches adult literacy classes in Anoka County, mostly at night. She said her half-hour commute has has increased by as much as a third already and will get worse next year.

Interstate 394 construction
Interstate 394 construction.
Minnesota Department of Transportation

Garrison McMurtrey is a community outreach coordinator for AAA Minneapolis. McMurtrey attended the meeting to understand the challenges for his customers — and because he commutes each day from Hwy. 62 in Richfield to Hwy. 100 north.

"I try wait at the office just a little bit longer before I officially get out there on the highway, but luckily, knowing that in Minnesota summertime is construction season, I'm usually ready," McMurtrey said. "I feel like we've been pretty prepped for what was to come."

Youngblood, from Robbinsdale, has taken to using a smartphone app called Waze to cut his commute time. The app guides him off his usual highways and through neighborhoods in St. Louis Park.

Hwy. 100 and I-494 are under construction through November 2016.

West metro construction projects

What is the impact right now? 

I-394

• All motorists and buses on westbound I-394 between I-94 (downtown Minneapolis) and Hwy. 100 will be shifted onto the two Reversible/HOV Lanes through late July.
• Lyndale Avenue Bridge over Dunwoody closed for redecking.

Hwy. 100

• Two lanes of traffic in each direction on one side of Hwy 100 through fall 2016.
• Several ramps are closed

I-494

• I-494 between Hwy. 55 and I-394 will have two lanes of traffic in each direction through fall 2015. I-494 between I-94/694 and Hwy 55 will have three lanes of traffic; two lanes in one direction and one lane in the opposite direction through fall 2015.
• Several ramps are closed

What's coming soon?

I-394  • July 17-20: Dunwoody Boulevard/Hennepin Avenue between Lyndale Avenue and 17th Street will be closed.
• July 31-mid August: All motorists and buses on eastbound I-394 between Hwy 100 and I-94 (downtown Minneapolis) will be shifted into the two Reversible/HOV Lanes.

Hwy. 100 (Beginning July 20) • Northbound Hwy. 100 ramp to Barry Street will close for 25-30 days.
• Hwy. 100 between south of West 70th Street to north of Hwy 62 reduced to two lanes in each direction through late August.
• Northbound Hwy. 100 to 77th Street will close for up to five days.

What's on tap for 2016?

Hwy. 100 • Hwy. 100 will have two lanes of traffic in each direction on the southbound side of the highway.
• Hwy. 7 Bridge will be removed and replaced
• Several ramps will be closed

I-494 • Traffic will be shifted to the southbound side of I-494
• Three lanes of traffic will be maintained on I-494 between Highway 55 and I-94
• Four lanes of traffic will be maintained on I-494 between Highway 55 and I-394

Information from MnDOT