Funding approved for 169/494 junction overhaulby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The long-awaited overhaul of the busy U.S. Highway 169-Interstate 494 interchange in the southwest suburbs has been given a green light.
This week, an influential Metropolitan Council advisory board this week recommended the expansion and reconstruction proposal, and the council is expected to approve the recommendation soon.
Advocates say the expected approval of the project will relieve congestion and spur development in Eden Prairie and surrounding cities, but critics say the money is better spent repairing the region's crumbling roads.
The project has had a long and tumultuous journey thus far. Last year, Metropolitan Council transportation officials pulled it off the list of high priority projects. The plan was to reduce the price tag.
After months of talks over the design federal, state and local officials have arrived at a $172 million project--scaled back from $188 million.
Scott McBride, a Minnesota Department of Transportation metro district engineer, said construction could begin in 2011 and last two years.
McBride said a rebuilt interchange eliminates three sets of stop lights that cause backups on 169 where it crosses 494, creating a long strech of roadway without signals.
"We'd actually free up a big portion of [Highway] 169," he said. "It certainly doesn't help the normal congestion that occurs everyday in a number of different locations on [Highway] 169, but in this area it does free up quite a bit."
The junction also has a fairly high crash rate as inattentive drivers sometimes rear-end other vehicles that stack up because of the congestion.
Economic development is a big factor motivating supporters of an expanded interchange.
State Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, is an advocate of the project and said a new interchange will help more businesses gain access to the area.
"It's increasingly difficult, I'd say almost impossible, to get people in and out of businesses near that area at peak traffic times," she said.
The money for the project comes from a mix of federal ($40 million), state ($91 million), local ($7 million) and TAB ($34 million) funds.
Critics say spending $172 million rebuilding a single interchange is a poor use of limited money.
Will Schroeer, a Twin Cities-based analyst for the advocacy group Smart Growth America said a recent MnDOT report said the number of road miles in poor condition went up last year and will continue to rise because MnDOT lacks funding.
"And so to take that limited amount of money and spend it on a project which was rebuilt very recently, I think is just [a] very poor call," he said.
Some of the most recent modifications to the interchange took place in the early 1990s.
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- All Things Considered, 03/19/2010, 4:44 p.m.