No matter where you live in the seven-county metro area, if you drive a car, you will eventually get stuck in traffic on Interstate 494. It is one of the region’s most vibrant, growing areas with the Mall of America, the airport, hotels, businesses — even IKEA. Trucking and freight associations have named this area one of the most congested bottlenecks in the country — truckers know traffic.
The good news is we’re making progress on a better I-494. Recently, the U.S Department of Transportation awarded MnDOT and the Met Council a $60 million grant, through the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, to help move the $273 million construction project forward. While MnDOT will be responsible for the hard work of renovating I-494, the Met Council is playing a key role in working with the cities, counties and communities along the route that will use the roadway.
In developing the region’s current Transportation Policy Plan, we learned from communities about how this key transportation corridor should look in the future. It will include bikeways and pedestrian bridges to connect the business and residential activities on each side of the freeway.
It’s also important to acknowledge that there will probably always be congestion in an area that is this economically vibrant — the congestion is a sign of a healthy economy. However, this rebuild is being done to minimize the number of hours of congestion and give people the ability to either take transit or use an express lane to opt out of congestion.
The I-494 project will include an E-ZPass lane to accommodate transit and motorists who want to pay to jump out of the slower-moving traffic. (As of Aug. 2, E-ZPass is the new name for our MnPass Express lanes. The change is being made so the labels for express lanes on interstate freeways are consistent across state lines.)
Transit is also a big part of the corridor’s future. Right now, construction work on the METRO Orange Line bus rapid transit project is well towards completion for service opening later this year. This new service will give people on the I-35W corridor a fast and frequent one-seat ride to and from downtown Minneapolis, all day long. The Orange Line will have a dedicated, buses-only lane going under I-494 to serve stations on 76th Street and American Boulevard.
It’s hard to understate the impact of the I-494 corridor on the economy of our region, and thus our state. The Met Council’s research show that on any given day, motorists from 86 of Minnesota’s 87 counties use this roadway. By reducing congestion and improving access to other modes of transportation, we are revitalizing a roadway that will continue to help build a thriving region.