Project heads host well-attended open house
by Brian Rosemeyer
Sun sailor Newspapers
More than 100 residents gathered at Plymouth City Hall Nov. 19 to take information and express concerns surrounding the forthcoming addition of a dynamic shoulder on I-494 from Fish Lake Road to Hwy. 55.
The evening began with an open house where attendees were able to examine wall-sized maps of the project proposal and speak with officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Plymouth has long advocated for a permanent third capacity lane through its section of the corridor and the compromise to construct a dynamic lane remains controversial as rush hour finds the stretch significantly congested.
Instead of constructing a permanent third lane, MnDOT has come forth with a plan to widen the shoulders to 14 feet in both directions and utilize the space as a controlled lane during peak traffic times.
It’s suggested that the lane would be dynamically opened and shut down according to traffic information collected in real time by MnDOT’s sensors.
Since MnDOT would manage control, the lane could be closed in the event of breakdowns, cars running out of gas and accidents to allow for safety accordingly. Additionally, emergency pull off areas will be established roughly every half mile.
Display boxes above I-494 would alert drivers, with green arrows and red ‘X’s, as to the status of the lane’s usage. MnDOT said it does not anticipate the fix to include a fee lane, rather one that could be used by everybody.
“We think this will give instant relief to the capacity issue that we have out there and will last for some time as well,” said MnDOT Metro District Engineer Scott McBride.
The right-side shoulder lane is suggested to be open in the southbound direction 6-9 a.m. and the northbound direction lane will open 2:30-6:30 p.m. Through monitoring, MnDOT will retain the capability to adjust the hours of operation according to the day’s traffic patterns.
According to Scott Pederson, MnDOT Metro District Preliminary Design Engineer, the dynamic shoulder approach will deliver about 85 percent of the benefit that would result from a permanent third lane.
“I think it’s going to be good, and we’re addressing the mobility concerns,” Pederson said. “I think, overall, people are happy that we’re doing something.”
Pederson continued to note that primary needs along the corridor also involve pavement and bridge restoration – the project will include re-decking and widening of six bridges on I-494 over Schmidt Lake Road, Canadian Pacific Rail and County Road 47.
Plans indicate limited service overlay on the Fish Lake Road bridge and two bridges within the Fish Lake Road interchange. Other bridge preservation may include deck patching, bridge painting and pier strutting for eight other bridges along the corridor.
Phase one of the project is slated to begin in July 2014 and end that fall, which would include strengthening and widening the shoulders in the southbound lane.
Phase two is set to begin in spring 2015 and would include shifting northbound traffic to the southbound lane to reconstruct the northbound lane. The opposite, phase three, is scheduled for spring 2016, which is scheduled to be completed by the subsequent fall.
No construction will occur in the 2014 or 2015 winter seasons.
Total estimated cost of the project is roughly $61.2 million – $30- to $40 million less than adding a permanent lane, according to Pederson. The cost savings result from not having to widen the bridges through the corridor and the lack of need for improvements to drainage aspects of the roadway.
“There are a lot of issues we need to work through before we add that permanent lane in the middle,” Pederson said. “This is a lower cost solution and one that we think will work.”
The “short term” of this project is estimated to represent 15-20 years before additional work is needed. During construction, traffic will be shifted to the respective opposite roadway. Three lanes will remain open during work, two lanes will be established for the peak periods in the morning and evening and one lane for the off-peak direction. MnDOT will accomplish this through implementing a movable barrier that will be adjusted according to traffic flow.
In concert with the added capacity, MnDOT is proposing seven 20-foot noise barriers be constructed along the affected corridor.
According to MnDOT, current traffic noise between Minnetonka and Maple Grove exceeds the state’s noise standards. State law requires compliance with noise limit guidelines and barriers were determined to reduce the noise along I-494 to acceptable levels.
Existing noise levels from I-494 have been measured at 65-75 decibels – roughly the same volume as normal human speech at a distance of three feet. The proposed noise barriers are speculated to reduce noise from I-494 by 5-13.1 decibels for affected areas. MnDOT cites studies that indicate a change of five decibels to be noticeable to the average human ear.
Construction of the large walls will likely require the loss of trees and vegetation and the walls would be owned and maintained by MnDOT, including graffiti and damage.
A weighted resident voting system has been established to determine whether each respective noise wall should be built. Ballots will be mailed to affected property owners and residents in early December. Once tallied, if 50 percent of eligible votes are against a wall, it will be removed from the project.
Vote values will be weighted as follows:
• If the property is immediately adjacent to I-494: Property residents or owners receive 2 points; Property owners receive 4 points and those who both reside and own the property receive 6 points.
• If the property is not immediately adjacent to I-494: Property residents or owners receive 1 point; Property owners receive 2 points and those who both reside and own the property receive 3 points.
All identified beneficiaries of a barrier will receive a ballot in the mail, which will be returned to Pederson. No amount of noise wall cost will be assessed to affected property owners or residents.
Residents weigh in
Because of the complexity, size and scope of the I-494 project, it was met with mixed reactions from a number of attendees at the Nov. 19 open house.
Plymouth resident Terry Jaffoni was at the meeting and said one of her greatest concerns regarded the added stress on local Plymouth streets during periods of high congestion on I-494.
Many motorists utilize north-south arteries in Plymouth such as Vicksburg Lane to forego the stop and go conditions on the interstate, which expedites the deterioration of city-owned roadways.
“I’m mixed on it,” Jaffoni said. “I would have rather seen us get a permanent lane, and I feel things have changed, in terms of the thinking on a lot of these projects. But I am hopeful that this will alleviate the pressure on the side streets.”
She also expressed concern about the impact the congestion and poor mobility has on the greater community.
“All that congestion isn’t good for businesses on those roads or pedestrians either,” she said. “Hopefully this is a creative approach that will work.”
Michael Serr, general manager of the Plymouth Crowne Plaza Hotel, said he sees the impact of congestion on I-494 every day – his hotel backs up to the interstate.
“My office window faces 494, so I see the traffic everyday,” Serr said. “[This project] is certainly needed. It’s just stopped out there, and that’s the kind of thing that keeps people from getting in and out of our area. And it’s only going to get worse as time goes on.”
While Serr didn’t speculate that poor traffic conditions create a hindrance on his business, he did say that he frequently receives calls from his employees who are stuck in rush hour traffic.
“I have employees that drive it, and they are often made late as a result,” he added. “It’s always an issue. Absolutely.”
During Pederson’s presentation, he was asked if MnDOT was setting itself up poorly in implementing a temporary fix as compared to making the full investment up front.
“We’re doing a longer range study to identify the vision of this corridor,” Pederson responded. “We’re looking at this project being that short term solution for the long term vision. And this project will in no way prohibit any lane project in the future.”
A complete overview of all aspects within the I-494 project can be found at mndot.gov/metro/projects/i494plymouth.
Contact Brian Rosemeyer at [email protected]