MnDOT addresses south metro interchange jam

The Crosstown Commons project aims to relieve heavy traffic congestion.

by Jason Juno

First-year student Anthony James said he lives in Richfield, Minn., and commutes to the University.

He avoids Crosstown Commons, the roadway Interstate Highway 35W and Minnesota Highway 62 share, on his trip to the University.

Instead, James said, he takes Nicollet Avenue. He said he saves 10 to 15 minutes by driving the city street and connecting with I-35W to bypass the interchange.

But if the traffic were free-flowing on the freeway, he said, he would save up to 10 minutes using the freeway rather than driving on city streets.

The interchange is congested approximately 13 hours a day. Construction on it will begin in July 2006 after needing the facelift for more than 20 years, said John Griffith, a Minnesota Department of Transportation project engineer.

The current setup forces some cars to change lanes to stay on the same freeway or merge to another one. Construction will involve separating the freeways to eliminate those switching lanes, he said.

David Levinson, a professor in the civil engineering department, said students who live in the south metro area, south of the metro area or go to attractions such as the Mall of America use this interchange.

The problem with the current design is a lack of capacity, he said. It was built more than 40 years ago, without the intent to handle so much traffic.

During the construction, all lanes will remain open, but shoulders will narrow, Griffith said. Traffic might slow as a result, he said.

The project is scheduled for completion at the end of the 2009 construction season, he said.

MnDOT will add two more lanes on I-35W from 60th Street to 46th Street, to make a total of 10 lanes going north and south, Griffith said. Two of those lanes will be for carpooling and bus rapid transit, he said. The buses will go as far north as 46th Street, where there will be a station, he said.

There will be 12 or 13 lanes total between I-35W and Highway 62 in the area where they both head east and west, Griffith said.

The lane additions and separation of the freeways should help battle congestion in that area, he said.

Crews will also be eliminating left exits for more traditional exits to the right, he said.

The interchange carries approximately 230,000 cars per day, Griffith said. The only interchange in the metro area with more traffic is I-35W and Interstate Highway 94 in Minneapolis, he said.

It will be difficult to get more traffic into the Crosstown Commons area, Griffith said.

He compared the area to a hose. MnDOT will take the center – Crosstown Commons – and make a big bulge with more lanes. Highway 62’s two lanes in each direction lead to the interchange (the bulge), meaning the amount of traffic getting to the interchange is limited, he said.

James said that if there are fewer traffic jams with the new construction, he will use the Crosstown Commons instead of city streets.

The traffic on the interchange is “really bad” now, he said.