MnDOT signals a lane change on I-494

Funds for a permanent third lane are being identified and red tape is being sorted – will it be enough? 

Plymouth is moving steadily closer to the possibility of a permanent third lane on I-494 from Highway 55 to the Fish Lake Road interchange in Maple Grove — but everything needs to fall into place just right.

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation stopped by the Plymouth Business Council meeting April 8 held by the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce and the Plymouth Rotary Club to deliver an update to business and community leaders.

MnDOT’s Metro District Engineer Scott McBride began with an overview of the storied history of the I-494 capacity project.

“We had a project essentially completely designed to develop a dynamic shoulder lane,” he said. “A couple dominoes flipped over to cause us to rethink that.”

The dynamic lane project would have widened the shoulder to 14 feet in both directions and utilized the space as a controlled lane during peak traffic times. A similar project was slated for I-694 through Arden Hills and was halted in favor of a general-purpose lane.

“For the folks on the west side of town, it was a question of fairness,” McBride said.

However, though MnDOT is working towards making Plymouth’s long-sought dream of a permanent lane a reality, over-stretched funding and awkward timing could tap the brakes on the whole thing.

 

A mass of construction

Bobbie Dahlke, Public Affairs at MnDOT, ran down a few other major projects statewide and in the area vying for funding and resources in 2014.

She said the department kicked off the construction season early April and is looking toward 308 projects totaling $1.1 billion dollars around Minnesota — 74 of which are in the Twin Cities.

Projects affecting the west metro include a major overhaul of Highway 100 between W. 36th Street and Barry Avenue. The project includes replacing interchange bridges at Highway 7 and Minnetonka Boulevard, Canadian Pacific Rail bridge and Cedar Lake Trail Bridge, redecking the 36th Street bridge and widening the highway to three lanes — adding auxiliary lanes in each direction between Highway 7 and Minnetonka Boulevard.

Highway 169, another north-south connection, will also undergo resurfacing and bridge redecking in 2014. That project will repair 2.3 miles of concrete, install guardrails and improve drainage systems.

 

Almost halfway there

With limited funding, MnDOT has been working to scrape together enough money for the additional cost of a general-purpose lane on I-494.

“I don’t want to say I’m confident that we’ll find the money to build that lane yet, but I think we’re pretty close to actually getting it done,” McBride said.

The additional cost of a general lane capacity improvement would reach approximately $25 million more than the roughly $60 million bill associated with the dynamic shoulder project.

Of that $25 million, McBride said MnDOT is able to identify about $10 million that could be utilized for I-494’s third lane. The majority of that money comes from contingency on other projects — MnDOT typically carries extra money on large projects to ensure that funds will be available should additional work be needed or other unexpected expenses arise.

With the $10 million, and legislative efforts for additional funding from Sen. Terri Bonoff and Rep. Ron Erhardt, McBride recognized that MnDOT is closing the gap on finding the necessary money.

 

Other hang-ups

Should funding be completely secured for the general-purpose lane project, a couple other chips need to fall in I-494’s favor.

A capacity project isn’t identified for the corridor in the Metropolitan Council’s long-range plan. Though the corridor is one of only two in the Twin Cities ring that remains two-lanes wide and experiences significant congestion, the plan calls for only managed-lane capacity improvements.

The plan would need to be amended at the Met Council level to allow for the project and MnDOT must submit a letter suggesting the amendment in short order, as project timing and public process create a careful timeline balance.

Plymouth’s Met Council representative, Katie Rodriguez, has been following the project closely and said, wholly, that the amendment would stand a chance for approval. Though roadblocks exist.

“I’ve been encouraged with the conversations we’ve had,” Rodriguez said. “I think this corridor is best suited for a general purpose lane. However, I do want to say that a dynamic shoulder was an attempt to get more for less. They hoped for 85 percent of the benefit at [a fraction] of the cost. After 2024, there are zero dollars for expansion projects. And we don’t have the funding dollars for the maintenance of the roadways we have now.”

MnDOT would also need to include the project within its own Transportation Improvement Program, which would again be required to undergo public process at the Met Council’s Transportation Advisory Board.

McBride guessed everything at about an eight-month process, which must begin within a matter of weeks. MnDOT expects to submit the amendment letter to Met Council in late May or early June.

 

In the meantime 

Regardless of how the final project will look on I-494, construction will occur on the interstate this summer.

Work is expected to begin late July on the widening of three I-494 bridges that pass over local roadways. Canadian Pacific Rail, Schmidt Lake Road and County Road 47 bridges will be expanded this summer to accommodate some type of capacity project — the dynamic shoulder option is not off the table.

Dahlke said the construction would involve some night and weekend lane closures, though lane restrictions are not expected during the 2014 and 2015 winter months. Some shoulder and crossover work will occur along the same timeframe.

Should a permanent third lane get the green light, the interstate will be expanded to the middle and roadway bridges over I-494 will not require reconfiguring. A median barrier would separate both directions and the final product would look similar to Highway 169 through Brooklyn Park.

McBride added that it should be clear within the next two months whether or not Plymouth will get a general-purpose lane.

“We’d hate to go through the agony of construction and not have the proper lane-age,” TwinWest Chamber of Commerce President Brad Meier said. “So thanks to MnDOT for taking a look at this.”

Information on the project, when available, can be viewed at dot.state.mn.us.

 

Contact Brian Rosemeyer at brian.rosemeyer@ecm-inc.com

 

 

 Current project timeline  

Phase I
Late July 2014- November 2014

• Reconstruct and widen the shoulders on southbound I-494. Widen the southbound I-494 bridges spanning Schmidt Lake Road, the Canadian Pacific Rail, and County Road 47

• Night and weekend lane closures are expected

• There will not be any lane restrictions during the 2014 and 2015 winter months

Phase II
Spring 2015- November 2015

• Traffic will be shifted to the northbound side of I-494 while crews reconstruct the northbound side of the interstate

•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

Phase II
Spring 2016- November 2016

• 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

 

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