Report: Congestion on Twin Cities metro freeways holds steady as population increases
Various projects, strategies aim to alleviate congestion
ROSEVILLE, Minn. — Traffic congestion on freeways in the Twin Cities metropolitan area is holding steady as the population of the seven-county metro area continues to increase, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
The 2017 Metropolitan Freeway System Congestion Report—released today—shows the percentage of congested freeways decreased from 23.7 percent in 2016 to 23.2 percent in 2017. The annual report shows the slight decrease is below MnDOT’s 10-year projection for congestion, which MnDOT defines as traffic flowing at speeds less than or equal to 45 mph.
Twin Cities metro area congestion rates and estimated population
- 2017—23.2 percent congested; population at 3.08 million—preliminary estimate
- 2016—23.7 percent; 3.04 million
- 2015—23.4 percent; 3.01 million
- 2014—21.1 percent; 2.98 million
“Population growth is one of several factors that affects congestion levels; others include the local economy, gas prices, transit ridership, the number of vehicle miles traveled and road construction,” said Brian Kary, director of traffic operations at MnDOT’s Regional Transportation Management Center. “As a department, we target congestion hot spots through various construction projects—large and small—and employ strategies to help alleviate ongoing congestion on our metro freeway system.”
MnDOT recently completed several projects aimed at improving traffic flow in the Twin Cities metro area, and is currently working on and preparing for other congestion-alleviating projects. This work includes:
- I-694 in Shoreview and Arden Hills — Crews reconstructed Interstate 694 and added a third general purpose lane in each direction between Rice Street in Shoreview and Lexington Avenue in Arden Hills. MnDOT completed work the two-year project in November 2017.
- Hwy 610 in Maple Grove — This multiyear project to realign and extend Highway 610 from Hennepin County Road 81 and Elm Creek Boulevard to I-94 in Maple Grove wrapped up in 2017. The project increases highway capacity and improves the movement of freight.
- St. Croix Crossing in Oak Park Heights — Crews opened the new St. Croix Crossing bridge between Oak Park Heights and St. Joseph, Wisconsin in 2017. The joint project between MnDOT and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation replaced the 80-year-old Stillwater Lift Bridge with a new four-lane bridge that connects expressways on both sides of the St. Croix River.
- I-94 in St. Paul and Maplewood — All major construction on the multiyear I-94 project between East Seventh Street in St. Paul and Highway 120/Century Avenue in Maplewood is complete. Crews added an auxiliary lane, extended an existing auxiliary lane and constructed two emergency pull-off sites to improve safety and reduce congestion on I-94.
- I-35W in Minneapolis — Construction is in full swing on the four-year I-35W project between 43rd Street and 15th Street in Minneapolis that includes adding MnPASS lanes, a transit station at Lake Street and additional access to the region. Work started in summer 2017 and will continue through fall 2021.
- I-494 in South St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights — Work will begin in late summer 2018 on a bridge and pavement repair project that includes adding an auxiliary lane to westbound I-494 between Hardman Avenue in South St. Paul and west of Seventh Avenue in Inver Grove Heights.
- I-35W in Roseville and Lino Lakes — Preliminary work will begin later this year in preparation for a larger reconstruction project on I-35W between Highway 36 in Roseville and Sunset Avenue in Lino Lakes. Construction, which is scheduled to begin in spring 2019, includes adding MnPASS Express Lanes between County Road C in Roseville and Lexington Avenue/County Road 17 in Blaine.
“In order to best manage congestion and address growing travel demand, we need to think strategically and have various approaches in place to help deal with the issue,” Kary said.
Congestion management strategies
- Ramp meters — These traffic signals on highway entrance ramps manage the flow of traffic onto a highway and operate only when needed. Ramp meters are designed and proven to reduce crashes and congestion, and provide more reliable travel times.
- Freeway Incident Response Safety Team — The FIRST program helps minimize congestion and prevent secondary crashes by quickly removing stalled vehicles from the freeway, providing traffic control at crash scenes and removing debris from the road.
- Real-time travel information — Motorists can call 511 or access www.511mn.org 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get information about road conditions, traffic incidents, commercial vehicle restrictions and weather information.
- Regional Transportation Management Center — The RTMC in Roseville is a cooperative facility where The Minnesota State Patrol, MnDOT Maintenance and MnDOT Freeway Operations work together to quickly detect, respond to and remove incidents off of the freeway.
- MnPASS — These express lanes provide a congestion-free option during rush hour for those who ride express transit, carpool or pay an electronic fee. The lanes help move people more efficiently by improving traffic flow in adjacent lanes and allowing for transit services to travel at higher speeds.
Editor’s note: Population figures provided by the Metropolitan Council.