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Orange cones and brake lights: Gridlock plagues Twin Cities commuters

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This summer has been the definition of road construction season in Minnesota – and as more projects begin before others are finished, drivers in the Twin Cities are growing increasingly frustrated.

Many motorists who have sat in gridlock this week have been complaining to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, wondering why there are so many construction projects going on at the same time – including on many highways and interstates in the Twin Cities. (See the complete list on MnDOT's website here)

"We knew soon as we went this way, it was going to be painful for people. We're going to try to live through it," John Griffith of MnDOT told KARE 11, adding that projects inevitably overlap because of the state's short road construction season.

Griffith also told the news station that these projects are slated to take longer because MnDOT is using materials and methods that will extend the life of the roadway to about 15 years – instead of a quicker fix that would require construction crews to return to the road in three or four years.

I-394 work backs up traffic for miles

The most recent construction project headache began over the weekend when MnDOT closed the westbound lane of Interstate 394 between Interstate 94 and Highway 100 (which are also undergoing construction) to resurface the roadway.

As a result, the 7,000 or so motorists who usually travel west on I-394 during rush hour have been squeezed onto the two reversible HOV lanes – and that's caused traffic to backup well into downtown Minneapolis. Some people even said traffic was affected all the way to Uptown.

The project will last for two weeks, but then MnDOT will begin work on the eastbound lanes of I-394, which will take another two weeks.

Gridlock throughout the west metro

This is just the latest headache to a construction-filled Minnesota summer. First there was Highway 100 and Interstate 494, which are in the midst of two-year road construction projects that are expected to reduce congestion in the area, but in the meantime all the orange cones have at least doubled drive times.

All of this construction is causing backups on other roadways around the west metro. Highway 169 is now the only north-south artery that's not under construction, causing significant backups there, while east-to-west routes like Highway 62 and Highway 55 are also seeing more motorists who are looking to avoid a traffic mess.

"As we line up these projects, we're thinking ahead, but really when we get the cross routes, they start to overlap and start to factor into each other," Griffith told KARE 11.

There is some reasoning behind the timing of these projects. The Star Tribune reported earlier this year that the "trifecta" of road projects is the result of funds for the I-494 and I-394 projects becoming available this year.

As for Highway 100, the Federal Highway Administration ordered MnDOT to replace the bridges that span the roadway at Minnetonka Boulevard and Highway 7 by 2018, the paper noted.

More work set to begin on Highway 100

Motorists on Highway 100 will have more to deal with starting Monday as another project gets underway. Crews will be repaving and repairing guardrails between I-494 in Bloomington and West 36th Street in St. Louis Park, the city of Edina says.

Throughout the construction project, which lasts until 2016, motorists can expect weekend closures of the highway, nearby roads, and bridges across Highway 100.

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