Why is the project necessary?
I-35W connects greater Minnesota and the northern suburbs to downtown Minneapolis. As the population and development continues to grow in the northern suburbs, traffic volumes on I-35W have increased. With an average of 53,000 to 127,000 vehicles driving on the highway per day, congestion levels vary throughout the day. Additional lanes on I-35W between Hwy 36 and Lexington Avenue are needed to improve capacity, mobility and travel times.
I-694/I-35W Interchange Congestion
Congestion is defined as traffic that flows at speeds less than or equal to 45 miles per hour (MPH). It doesn't include delays that may occur at speeds greater than 45 MPH.
- Between 5 and 10 a.m. southbound I-35W approaching Highway 10 experiences one and two hours of congestion
- Southbound I-35W between Highway 10 and I-694, experiences between two and three hours of congestion.
- Southbound I-35W between I-694 and Highway 36 in Roseville experiences less than one hour of congestion.
- Between 2 and 7 p.m. northbound I-35W between Hwy 36 and I-694 experiences between one and greater than three hours of congestion.
Options to improve congestion
Rebuilding the I-694 interchange
Rebuilding the I-694 interchange has been an option discussed and studied for this I-694/I-35W interchage. Traffic studies show that the congestion at this interchange is actually caused by back-ups from the Hwy 10/I-35W commons area rather than just by traffic entering and exiting at the I-694 interchange. Therefore, rebuilding the I-694/I-35W interchange will not relieve congestion on I-35W.
Traffic studies for 2040 indicate that the I-35W/Hwy 10 commons area, not the I-694 interchange, will continue to be the most significant traffic bottleneck along I-35W. Even if the I-694 interchange were rebuilt, northbound traffic congestion from the Hwy 10/I-35W commons area would back up south of the I-694 interchange, preventing motorists from getting to the I-694 interchange.
General Purpose Lanes
Adding one general purpose lane in each direction to I-35W is another option considered for the I-694/I-35W interchange. However, studies have shown it would not be a feasible long-term fix. With an addition of only one general purpose lane, the freeway would be congested within the next 15 to 20 years.
Because of the increasingly high traffic volumes on I-35W, it would require at least two new general purpose lanes in each direction to serve the expected traffic demand in 2040. This would cost more than $2.5 billion and would require acquiring private property and displacing homes and businesses along the entire study area. General purpose lanes cannot be kept congestion-free and are prone to unstable and unreliable travel times during peak travel times due to congestion.
Adding MnPASS Lanes
After several studies of options to relieve congestion, it was determined that the best way to reduce congestion at the I-694/I-35W interchange is to reduce the congestion caused by the Hwy 10/I-35W commons area. This will be done by building a MnPASS lane from Co Rd C, through the Hwy 10 commons area, and building an additional lane on the right side of the freeway at the I-694 ramps.
The additional lane on the right side of the freeway will allow traffic entering and exiting at I-694 to merge. Opening one MnPASS lane in each direction between Hwy 36 and Lexington Ave. will significantly improve the operation and performance of the entire study area.
MnPASS lanes are a better solution for areas with high traffic volumes because they serve more people; provide reliable travel times during peak-travel times; and increase transit and carpool use. The traffic analysis completed for this study area shows that the MnPASS alternative serves about 10% more people daily, provides free-flowing travel for 75% more people, and significantly improves travel times and trip reliability for transit riders and others using the MnPASS lanes.
The planned improvements of adding MnPASS Lanes (rather than rebuilding the I-694 interchange) will have a cost savings of approximately $20 million.
Other benefits of MnPASS
- Transit users will have a more beneficial experience with the addition of MnPASS Lanes
- The MnPASS lanes are always free for motorcyclists and vehicles with two or more occupants, including children and infants
- During off-peak travel times, all motorists are able drive in the MnPASS lanes for free outside (approx. 85% of the time)
- Solo motorists, who travel during peak-travel times, can choose to drive in the MnPASS lane and pay a fee or drive in the general purpose lanes
To learn more about MnPASS, visit: www.mnpass.org
Closing the ramp from Co Rd I to NB I-35W
If the Co Rd I ramp to northbound I-35W is not closed, northbound I-35W will be more congested at Co Rd I than it is today, even with the proposed addition of MnPASS lanes.
Co Rd I is in the middle of a freeway interchange. The proposed project will add a general purpose lane on the right side of the freeway and a MnPASS lane on the left side. Northbound motorists will have to merge across two lanes instead of one lane to get onto northbound I-35W.
The current distance is 1,250 feet; it should be a minimum of 2,500 feet. Research shows, and motorists have told MnDOT, that the distance between where Co Rd I enters the freeway and where Hwy 10 separates from I-35W, is not enough distance for motorists to safely merge across the lanes and get into the lane that continues onto northbound I-35W.