Metro Transit works to provide commuters options in wake of construction

Road construction sign
Road construction sign
Dan Gunderson | MPR News 2008

Brian Funk hopped on a Metro Transit bus Monday morning like he does most weekdays to get to work in downtown Minneapolis.

Even with the Interstate 35W north lanes closed for construction, Funk said "getting there took me literally no more time than it would've if I'd taken the same trip last week."

That's because, through collaborations, the transit system is offering beefed-up bus service with transit advantages, said Funk, who is Metro Transit's deputy chief operation officer for buses.

"From the Metro Transit perspective, we're really happy with how things went this morning," Funk said. "We believe that because of both the internal planning and coordination with our partners and planning of commuters and motorists things went really smoothly for all our operations this morning."

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Dave Aeikens, public affairs coordinator for MnDOT's Metro District, said it's going to get worse as the construction continues. Next Monday, I-35W will be reduced to three lanes going north and two lanes southbound. Also, Interstate 94 west will be two lanes between Chicago to Nicollet avenues.

Aeikens said the roads will have less capacity for vehicles, and that commuters should consider alternatives.

"People are going to want to continue to think about making a connection, how they're going to get downtown — whether it's the bus, the train, carpooling, alternate routes, working from home a couple of hours a day," he said. "Think about it and plan ahead and give yourself lots of time."

The $239 million improvement and reconstruction project of I-35, from 43rd Street to I-94, is in its second stage, which doesn't wrap up until the fall. The entire project won't be completed until 2021.

In response, Metro Transit increased service by 40 percent, with additional park-and-rides and expanded trip times.

"They start earlier in the morning, during the peak of rush and later into morning to ensure that people have alternatives that work for them," Funk said. "If people want to adjust their work day, we're going to have space for them."

Funk said Metro Transit partnered with the city and MnDOT on creating transit advantages, like bus-only lanes.

For example, the 31st Street ramp off the I-35W is closed to general purpose traffic but available to buses going north.

"That was a huge help and the state patrol was out there to make sure there was good compliance by everybody," he said.

Also, specific surface streets were restriped to create adequate lane space and traffic signal timing was activated "so we were all able to keep moving as efficiently as possible."

Funk said they're prepared for the commute home.

"We're going to continue to work really hard to provide that good alternative," he said.