U offers commuter advice on navigating tangled interstate

Mike Rose

With more than 140,000 cars passing over it on a daily basis, the now-collapsed Interstate 35W bridge was one of the most-traveled bridges in the state. It was also a primary route to the University. With it gone, campus commuters must now adjust to detours and possible traffic congestion.

Getting to campus

The Minnesota Department of Transportation alleviated one concern Monday when it reopened two exits leading to campus from I-35W. Southbound drivers will now be able to reach the University Avenue/Fourth Street exit. Northbound commuters can take the Third Street/University of Minnesota exits. However, congestion could still be a problem, and there are detours available.

According to a Sunday news release from the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota Highway 280 has been designated the primary detour route by MnDOT. To facilitate extra traffic flow, 280 has been turned into an express route. Traffic lights for two intersecting roads, Broadway Street NE and County Road B, will now be green at all times, so commuters will not need to stop on 280.

Highway 280 can be accessed from I-35W in the north metro, near Roseville. The highway is intersected by Interstate 94 in the south, which leads back to I-35W.

Highway 280 has a University Avenue exit, which leads into campus.

Commuters can also access Como Avenue from 280. Como Avenue runs to 15th Street, which goes into Dinkytown. Metro Transit’s Route 3 bus, which travels east to St. Paul and west through campus to downtown, also operates on Como Avenue.

Previously set as a site for road construction near 22nd Avenue, Como Avenue fully opened to traffic Monday to provide an alternate route.

Mary Sienko, marketing manager at University Parking and Transportation Services, said the plan is to allow the city and state access to the collapsed bridge and to abide by their decisions.

She said at this point it is too early to discuss long-term transportation options to campus, but University officials will meet with regional and state planners before the fall semester begins.

Sienko added that she has always advocated bike and public transportation to the University and that commuters should leave their cars at home.

“(The bridge collapse) frankly reinforced that,” she said.

In his August newsletter, Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon also encouraged commuters to use bikes or public transportation to prevent congestion.

To encourage public transportation and ease the burden on the roads, Metro Transit announced Friday that it will be providing free park-and-ride services in various suburban locations including Blaine, Brooklyn Park, Coon Rapids and Roseville.

These park-and-rides will take commuters to downtown Minneapolis via various bus routes.

“We hope more commuters will consider using transit, escaping the stress of driving in heavy traffic and easing congestion for everyone,” said Brian Lamb, Metro Transit general manager, in a news release.

Commuters’ accounts

For people coming to campus on I-35W, creativity will be the name of the game. The University of Minnesota Commuter Connection could be a good place for them to visit.

Helping commuters deal with the bridge collapse will be a major focus of the group this fall semester, said the student group’s co-chairwoman, Kayla Milbrath.

“We will make our room (236 Coffman) very available,” she said.

In addition to meetings every other Friday, Milbrath said the room has a staffed desk that will provide alternate route suggestions and other assistance to commuters who typically use I-35W.

Nancy Parker, 49, works at the University Medical Center, Fairview on the West Bank. She commutes from Eden Prairie and typically takes I-35W North to Interstate 94 East. Tuesday, however, she decided to take a different route.

Noticing that I-94 seemed crowded, Parker instead took I-35W to the Third Street/University exits. Then, Parker rode through campus and took the Washington Avenue Bridge to the West Bank at around 7:30 a.m.

Quratulain Saeed, a health and business administration graduate student, travels from Apple Valley. Her typical route takes her from Highway 77 to Highway 62, to I-35W.

On Friday, though, Saeed had to alter her route. Because University exits were blocked, Saeed took 94 East to Huron Boulevard.

“The wait (at the Huron exit) was really bad,” she said. “It was a huge traffic jam.”

Saeed said she will soon be taking a class on the West Bank and does not yet know how she will get there. She said she was unsure of parking on the West Bank and might instead park on the East Bank and take a University shuttle bus.