The Nov. 19 open house at Plymouth City Hall will provide information on the I-494 rehabilitation project slated to begin this summer.
The stretch of 494 concerned passes through Minnetonka and Plymouth to Maple Grove, between I-394 and I-694/Fish Lake Interchange. The $61.5 million, two-year project will potentially include reducing I-494 to a single lane in both directions during off-peak hours and two lanes in both directions during rush hour.
Maintenance will consist of repairing seven miles of pavement and reinforcing and widening several bridges, constructing storm water ponds, re-paving road surfaces and potentially erecting several noise walls at various locations throughout the stretch.
According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, as of 2005, daily traffic averaged 95,000 vehicles - a number that, with the rehabilitation's occurrence, is estimated to jump to 132,800 vehicles by 2030.
The rehabilitation will introduce a "dynamic shoulder" between Highway 55 and East Fish Lake Road, currently the only portion of I-494 without three lanes, to be open during peak traffic times, thus creating a third lane to ease congestion. Use of the additional lane will be free.
Geometric layout for the project was finalized in August, environmental documentation, and final plans and specifications will be solidified in January and February respectively. June will see project letting and construction will begin in July. Project completion is expected in November of 2016.
Many commuters who travel the span have expressed frustration over the added stress construction traffic will bring, especially since the rehabilitation's result will yield a fix that is only temporary. Thus far, lack of funding has prevented the creation of permanent, long-term improvements.
Additionally, the Metropolitan Council and state have adopted the usage of MnPASS lanes for transit vehicles, toll payers and carpoolers, to be used as the means of long-term traffic management in Minnesota, instead of the construction of new general-purpose lanes on highways.
However, the MnPASS study on the complete I-494 corridor will not be finished until next year, and there is no implementation timeline in sight, hence MnDOT's current, if temporary, rehabilitation solution. "We need to develop an implementation plan, and do something that makes sense for the entire corridor," Scott Pedersen, of MnDOT's Metro Resource Section Pre-Design, said in January.
Business owners along the portion concerned are also eager to see more long-term congestion relief, as rush hour traffic makes it difficult for customers to reach them.
"In order for businesses to survive and thrive, time is money," Government Affairs Coordinator Judy Johnson of the Twin Cities West Chamber of Commerce said in February.
I-494 south of I-394 was widened to six lanes in the early 2000s, and city leaders, residents and commuters north of I-394 want to see a similar solution applied to their stretch of the highway, particularly as Plymouth and Maple Grove continue to grow.
"It's a critical need for our community," Plymouth Mayor Kelli Slavik said in February, calling the rehabilitation project a "short-term solution."
Rep. John Benson (DFL-Minnetonka) sponsored HF465 earlier this year, which proposed combining present state transportation funds with $50 million in state bonding proceeds to add a third lane in each direction along the congestion-prone stretch of I-494. Sen. Terri E. Bonoff (DFL-Minnetonka) sponsored the companion SF239, which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. But Slavik made it clear early on that passage of legislation to fund a permanent 494 solution in the near future was unlikely.
On Feb. 13, SF239 was laid over with consideration for omnibus bill. The House hearing short description on HF465 states that additional lane funding was provided for I-494 and that bonds had been issued and money appropriated. Minutes from the Feb. 27 meeting of the Committee on Transportation Finance reflect that its chair, Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL- District 61A) tabled HF465.
While more extensive, future improvements will likely follow the rehabilitation's 2016 conclusion, the completed project itself will yield some benefits to commuters, residents and business owners. These include less wear and tear to side streets often taken by those wishing to escape freeway gridlock, increased access to I-494 shopping, dining and other establishments currently blocked during peak driving hours, and the possible noise walls to help lessen traffic din for those living and working in close proximity to the highway.
Additionally, reinforcement of the road surfaces and bridges along the stretch which, like most Minnesota infrastructure have weathered several years' use and exposure to extreme weather conditions - will mean extended bridge life and safer and smoother driving going forward.
The public is invited to the project's open house Tuesday, Nov. 19 in the Medicine Lake Room at Plymouth City Hall. It will begin at 4 p.m., with MnDOT staff providing a half-hour presentation at 6 p.m. and taking questions. The evening will wrap with a discussion on the voting process for the proposed noise walls.