I-94 shutdown causes only minor headachesby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
There were a few reports of traffic jams over the weekend, but overall, Department of Transportation officials say drivers took a shutdown of a section of I-94 in stride.
Minneapolis — MnDOT had briefly considered postponing the shutdown of 94 because of rain, but the project went forward as planned. Crews worked overnight and through the weekend adding lanes to the three-mile stretch between Highway 280 and I-35W.
They ground off the surface of highway in order to repave and repaint lane markings. The new lanes are meant to relieve some of the congestion caused by this month's 35W bridge collapse.
For Peter Martin of Apple Valley, word of the 94 expansion is welcome news. He runs Lakeville Motor Express in Roseville, a trucking company that makes pickups and deliveries throughout the metro area. The post-bridge collapse traffic has been a big headache for the company.
It's also been a financial strain.
"It has been extremely detrimental. It has added more time spent by our drivers and all of the circuitous routes we now have to take, additional consumption of fuel, labor costs, man hours, delays in delivery and pickup of merchandise into and out of all the businesses that have been affected," says Martin.
He estimates that time lost because of traffic will cost him $270,000 this year. He says the company has already been forced to hire more drivers to help make up for lost time.
He says the most important thing is to rebuild the 35W bridge as soon as possible. But in the meantime, the highway expansion will help a little.
Officials say it was crucial to complete the 94 expansion before the start of the State Fair on Thursday and the start of classes at the University of Minnesota. That and the Labor Day weekend usually bring more cars to the road.
Popular crosstown streets like Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis and University Avenue in St. Paul had heavy traffic in spots, but seemed to be moving well. This despite the additional traffic that would normally use 94 instead.
Sidestreets were busy and some residents reported seeing traffic jams, as confused drivers confronted closed highway on-ramps.
Lance Gudmundson works at a motorcycle shop near the intersection of Franklin and Cedar, across the street from the entrance to 94-East. Gudmundson says he gave out directions to many frustrated drivers for most of the early part of Saturday.
"It's heavier and people are confused on where to go," he said. "People don't know where they're going to find where they've got to get to with the closure. Right here on Franklin and Cedar has been terrible. I'm directing everybody down Cedar Avenue here for 94 and it's been a lot of backup."
But by evening, the rain was steady and traffic seemed lighter on city streets.
Phillips neighborhood resident Ed Burke was preparing to drive across the country to Vermont. As he filled up his car with gas, he says the shutdown of 94 was complicating his weekend plans.
"I'm heading back to Vermont and normally I would hop right on 94 and take it clear out of town," he said. "So I'll be taking Lake Street over to probably to Cleveland in St. Paul and getting on the interstate."
Burke says the added time will be inconvenient, but he was prepared for the closure. He was planning to hit the road extra early Sunday morning to beat city traffic.
Department of Transportation officials reported no big problems or delays overall along the detour route.
Spokesperson Beth Petrowske says she is happy with how drivers handled the 94 closure. She says the rain probably helped keep traffic down by keeping more people off the streets.
"Maybe the rainy weather has something to do with it, maybe people are just staying home; I'm not sure. But everything has been moving really good on the system."
An additional lane on 94 in both directions will make room for about 2,000 more cars an hour on 94. The lanes will remain in place until after the new 35W bridge is built.
- Morning Edition, 08/20/2007, 7:50 a.m.