MINNEAPOLIS - The Minnesota Department of Transportation has an underground problem, in the sense, that the concern involves the area's most heavily traveled tunnel.
The problem is the way motorists react to the sudden curve and drop of westbound I-94 as it enters the Lowry Tunnel. The roadway opened in 1971, but recent crashes have caused MnDOT to take a second look at safety in the area.
"MnDOT at this point in time is looking into what possibly can be done for improving the safety of the tunnel in light of the recent incidents that have happened there in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration," said Ron Rauchle, MnDOT West Area Engineer.
The problem is not so much tunnel vision as a vision for the tunnel.
"Certainly the best solution would be to flatten the curve out, but obviously it has lots of impacts to the surrounding community," Rauchle said. "That would be a major undertaking and a considerable expense and it would take quite a while to develop a project like that."
The tunnel sits between two historic churches and the Walker Art Center. No one wants to see any of those buildings jeopardized. Rauchle agrees with the State Patrol's Lt. Eric Roeske that driver error is a big factor in the tunnel crashes.
"The problem with the tunnel is when someone makes one of those errors in that confined space, the consequences can be magnified a bit. So, there are a couple of factors that come into play there, but primarily it is driving behavior," Roeske said.
Both Roeske and Rauchle agree that drivers of cars and trucks need to heed the big signs over the roadway and slow down to 35 mph as they approach the tunnel.