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Nightmare I-494 interchange to be improved under MnDOT's $417M plan

Some are unhappy the 4 new projects announced are all close to the Twin Cities.

One of the most congested interchanges in the entire country will be improved under a funding plan confirmed on Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

The I-494/I-35W interchange is one of four projects included in the next round of MnDOT project funding through its "Corridors of Commerce" program.

The cloverleaf loop connecting the two major interstates carries 275,000 vehicles a day and lawmakers who called for improvements claim the interchange ranks as the 17th worst for commuter in the entire nation.

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The improvements will see $70 million spent to construct a new, direct ramp for drivers going from northbound I-35W to westbound I-494, reducing congestion by eliminating the need for some of the inner loops.

MnDOT predicts this will reduce 1,600 hours of daily delays and save $1.8 million in annual crash costs at a loop that carries around 275,000 vehicles a day.

It's the first part of a $300 million project to create a "turbine interchange" at I-35/I-494, which has existed in its current cloverleaf form since the late 1950s.

It's not the only congestion-relieving project approved for I-494, which is also slated to get $134 million to build an eastbound MNPass lane between France Avenue and Hwy. 77, and westbound between Hwy. 77 and I-35W.

This, MnDOT says, will remove 2,900 hours of delays a day and $2 million in annual crash costs.

I-94 widening will help commuters, lake home owners

Another of the projects selected for improvements is a widening of I-94 between St. Michael and Albertville.

The stretch of interstate can bottleneck with drivers heading in and out of the Twin Cities during rush hours.

But it also regularly gets choked at the end of the weekend, when Twin Cities residents return to the metro after spending time in Greater Minnesota.

This stretch will be widened from four lanes to six lanes, at a cost of $56 million, with construction starting in 2020.

The final project announced will see Hwy. 169 between MN–101 and 197th Avenue converted into a freeway by removing traffic signals and adding 4 interchanges, at a cost of $157 million.

Criticism over Twin Cities focus

The selection of the projects, from over 170 eligible projects, has drawn criticism from lawmakers outside of the Twin Cities.

All 4 projects are within 50 miles of the Twin Cities, leading Rep. Paul Torkelson (R–Hanska), chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee to decry the list as "Metro-centric."

"It's astonishing that MnDOT would select four projects with massive price tags all within 50 miles of Minneapolis and Saint Paul—it's clear that changes are needed to ensure a more balanced approach for the Corridors of Commerce program moving forward," he said.

He said there are "critical corridors" like Hwy. 23 in western Minnesota and Hwy. 14 in the south that are in "desperate need of upgrades."

First District U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who is running for governor, also expressed disappointment that improvements to Hwy. 14 were not included for Corridors of Commerce funding.

But among those delighted by the announcement was 6th District Rep. Tom Emmer, who praised the selection of the I-94 and Hwy. 169 projects.

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