ST. MICHAEL, Minn. – Shovels of sand were tossed in the air Monday morning in the parking lot of a closed theater. It was a ceremonial groundbreaking for a major project for suburban commuters in the Northwestern part of the Metro.
The project is to add a third lane in each direction to I-94 from Rogers to St. Michael. Presently, the interstate is three lanes until it reaches Rogers and two lanes after that. The situation causes an almost daily bottleneck at Rogers as commuters and cabin owners head west.
"We had one person testifying about how important it was for her to be able to spend more time with her kids instead of being stuck in traffic on the roads," said Frank Hornstein, chair of MN House Transportation Committee.
The $40 million I-94 project is the first phase of the $300 million "Corridors of Commerce" bonding initiative passed by the state legislature in 2013. MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle told those assembled for the ground breaking that there are 10 projects in the works.
"It really goes to the heart of what we are saying we can do at MnDOT," said Zelle, "which is we are building roads and bridges, but we are really about enhancing the quality of life and supporting the economy of our state."
Zelle admitted that the quality of life for commuters will not be enhanced during the construction phase, but promised that no construction will take place during rush hours.
"Road construction causes short term congestion and distraction and but I think citizens understand that the traffic will be flowing a lot better when we get these projects done," said Zelle.
"We are not going to end with this first phase," Representative Michele Bachmann, told the attendees. "It is first phase for a reason because we want to take this eventually all the way out to Saint Cloud, add another lane on either side."
Senator Amy Klobuchar, said the stretch of highway is a critical congestion point.
"This I-94 from St. Michael to St. Cloud accounts for 40% of the congestion on MnDOT's inter-regional corridor, yet accounts for only 1.6% of the length of the system," said Klobuchar.
Added to the concerns of commuters is a major construction project just north of I-94 on Highway 101 at Rogers. The intersection of Highway 101 and County Road 144 is being rebuilt as a "divergent diamond." The $14.6 million work is to be completed in October.
The I-94 project is to be completed in the summer of 2015.