State transportation director Zelle reviews I-94 project
by AARON BROM
SUN PRESS Newspapers
Minnesota Department of Transportation Director Charlie Zelle came to Rogers just a couple months ago and was greeted by a room full of somewhat perturbed community leaders and legislators.
They wondered and asked Zelle what he could do to help the northwest metro region get its fair share of transportation funding.
Zelle came back to Rogers Wednesday, Dec. 18, and this time those same half-snarling faces had wide smiles — as Zelle was there to review the I-94 improvement between Rogers and St. Michael that made the state’s 10 Corridors of Commerce projects.
“I’ve heard a consistent message,” Zelle said. “ ‘Our area is growing and we have great opportunities. The only thing holding us back is transportation.’ ”
The Corridors of Commerce is a $300 million project approved at the last legislative session seeking to fund projects that have the highest rate of return. Zelle said adding lanes between Rogers and St. Michael, while improving/widening the Crow River bridge, has a very high rate of return.
“The $300 million is a down payment to show what impacts we have on the economy,” he said. “There were 100 really qualified projects and we chose 10. It’s really based on arithmetic.”
That arithmetic included hiring consultants to measure factors like operating costs, congestion, travel times and enhancing efficiency effectiveness. And that math added up for the I-94 corridor, which Zelle said is important not just to commuters but Minnesota industry and commerce beyond, such as from North Dakota and Canada.
“I’ve learned a lot in less than a year (on the job) and certainly a lot about I-94,” he said. “Logistics is the number one concern of many businesses due to lack of mobility, and this project will help.”
The project includes adding a lane starting east of the Hwy. 101 interchange in Rogers and to the Hwy. 241 intersection across the river. That means the river bridge itself will be widened.
MnDOT Transportation District Engineer Terry Humbert reviewed the project with the audience. He said there would be all new pavement on the existing freeway from the County Rd. 144 bridge to Hwy. 101, reconstruction of pavement from Hwy. 241 in St. Michael to County Rd. 144 (due to river bridges work), and new pavement for the exit ramp extension at Hwy. 101.
The Crow River east and westbound bridges (untouched since construction in 1973) will undergo deck replacement, new girders and widening from 40 feet to 60 feet. A noise wall will be erected along westbound I-94 to protect Rogers residences from excessive freeway noise.
“I’m anticipating the first thing we’ll see is a lot of work at the river,” Humbert said.
The project cost is estimated between $35 million and $46 million. The schedule includes cost/review, modeling and noise analysis, and subsurface utility engineering, all before the end of the month. The final layout will take place next month, as will environmental review. Requests for proposal will go out in February, with design/build proposals due in mid-May. The project will be awarded by July 1, with construction to start soon after. Completion is in fall 2015.
I-94 Coalition President and St. Michael City Administrator Steve Bot had many thanks to the coalition cities, elected officials, business owners and community leaders for helping make this project a reality.
“Two months ago we were not on MnDOT’s 20-year plan,” Bot said. “This is what we accomplish when we all work together. There’s more work to do, more projects to get done, but it shows what we can do.”
As for when I-94 lanes would be expanded further west, Zelle said his department is near its 20 percent debt service level, “which is the limit of our debt policy. Without new revenue, we can’t issue more funds.”
He said the need is urgent, as projections show a 30 percent increase in state truck traffic during the next 20 years, “and even more on Interstate 94.”
Contact Aaron Brom at [email protected]