Traveling on I-694 in Shoreview will soon mean choosing one lane for several miles


Construction equipment sat ready for action over the weekend at the Lexington Avenue and I-694 intersection. (Linda E. Andersen/Bulletin)

A new lane will be added to westbound I-694, between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue. (courtesy of Minnesota Department of Transportation)

Construction to last until November

Monday marked the start of a new round of road construction on Interstate 694, when crews began preliminary work on a project that will eventually add a third lane to the westbound segment that goes through Shoreview.

Specifically, the new lane will be added between Rice Street in Little Canada and Lexington Avenue in Arden Hills. 

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, lane restrictions will be in effect between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Monday through Friday so construction crews can work to widen the roadway in preparation to shift traffic in mid-June to new temporary lanes. 

 

Know your route

According to MnDOT, come June drivers will need to choose their lanes thoughtfully, the length of a commute could otherwise be multiplied if a driver is traveling in the wrong lane. 

Less than a mile before the Rice Street exit, the two traffic lanes will be split and separated by a wide divider. The bulk of the roadwork will take place within that created median.  

The left lane will be designated to through traffic — drivers who wish to continue at least five miles — and the right lane will be intended for drivers seeking access to local exits. 

If a motorist wishes to exit at Rice Street, or Victoria or Lexington avenues, for example, she or he will need to stay in or safely merge to the right lane before the lanes divide. 

Drivers who stay in the lefthand lane will not be able to leave the freeway or make a route correction until coming to Interstate 35W, according to MnDOT. 

After traffic is shifted onto the new temporary lanes, the access ramp from Rice Street to westbound I-694 will close for the construction season.

This westbound stage of the $42 million Enhance 694 project is slated to last until November, but according to MnDOT spokesperson Kent Barnard, the project will continue in 2017, when the same goal is intended for the eastbound lanes. 

“Next summer we’re gonna flip-flop,” he said. “We’ll be building a third lane eastbound.”

 

Safety in mind

Barnard said that though this work is using an efficient method of adding lanes, drivers should keep safety in mind.

“Anytime there’s construction there are dangers,” Barnard said. “People always need to watch for people and construction vehicles moving in and out of the work zone, and in this specific case, having the two lanes separated by concrete barriers, people will really have to make sure they know where they are going. We don’t want anyone making a last-minute lane switch and causing a crash.”

As part of its effort to advise I-694 drivers to be safe, MnDOT made a three-video series that help explain and illustrate the project, how it will work, and why the work is being done. The videos can be viewed at www.dot.state.mn.us/enhance694. 

“We’ve used videos for projects many times, but none like these that I’m aware of,” Barnard said. “This ‘chalkboard style’ is kind of new to us. We used it because we just wanted a way to simplify the project, so it would be easy for people to understand. Some of these concepts can be a little confusing and we needed to get the message across.” 

 

Easing the roadway

According to Barnard, though the $42 million Enhance 694 project may cause some delays, in the end it will free up congestion that has been causing many to complain about driving on that part of the highway, especially during rush hour.  

“Adding a third lane will definitely increase capacity on the roadway, eliminate some of the congestion, and it should move traffic better,” he said. “It’s also safer, and it’ll help with economic development.”

Part one of the video series MnDOT released in relation to this project states that the road “routinely becomes congested due to an expanding economy, population growth and increased truck traffic.”

“I am sure construction will slow people down a little, but some will avoid it and find other routes, too,” Barnard said. “Plus we’ll still have two lanes in each direction, which is what we have now.” 

According to MnDOT, there will be a 50-mph speed limit in the work zone and double fines apply. If drivers speed through the area or show any other unsafe behavior the fines will be doubled, Barnard said.  

“We expect people to make sure they know their route and drive safely through that area, to be patient and give themselves plenty of time to get where they’re going.”

One thing Barnard pointed out is that during the preliminary work, especially from now until June, there will be loud construction noise sometimes at night while construction crews are removing pavement and repaving on both sides of the interstate to build bypass lanes to carry traffic during the upcoming third-lane construction.

“There will be nighttime construction out there,” Barnard said. “That means there will be noise at night, but we’ll try to keep it to a minimum as best we can.”

 

Summary of MnDOT’s plans over the next two construction seasons

• Add a third general-purpose lane in each direction between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue.

• Reconstruct I-694 between Rice Street and Lexington Avenue.

• Rebuild interstate ramps at Lexington Avenue, Victoria Street and Rice Street.

• Open the right lane of the bridge from northbound I-35E to westbound I-694. The right lane will become an exit-only lane to Rice Street.

• Build a noise wall along the south side of I-694 west of Little Canada Road in Shoreview

• Improve storm water drainage throughout the corridor.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at twitter.com/JPooleNews.

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