Minnesota DOT Tackles Congestion on I-494
Going with the Flow: Minnesota DOT and Shafer Contracting Co. Partner of I-494 Reconstruction to Keep Traffic Moving
Aiming to reduce congestion and improve safety, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has started three projects on Interstate 494 in Inver Grove Heights, South St. Paul and one on the Interstate 94 East Metro Interchange.
“The goal of the project is to get rid of bottlenecks and improve traffic flow on westbound I-494 over the Mississippi River in morning rush hour,” says Steve Kordosky, Project Manager for MnDOT. “In addition, we are doing pavement preservation and fixing bad areas of concrete.”
The work also includes drainage improvements and construction of retention ponds, and the addition of noise and retaining walls.
Three construction projects are under way in Inver Grove.
The first, from Blaine Avenue to Hardman Avenue, began in August 2018. MnDOT designed the project and awarded Shafer Contracting Co. of Shafer, Minnesota, the $18.7 million construction contract. The department is adding an auxiliary lane on I-494 westbound, widening I-494 westbound, improving drainage retention ponds, constructing noise and retaining walls, and rehabilitating the concrete pavement.
Shafer ran into some challenges retrofitting the storm drains, but nothing that affected the schedule. The project remains on time and on budget. Frank Weiss, Project Manager for Shafer, credits Foreman, Josh Lease, for that.
“Josh is handling things well, keeping us on schedule and pushing when he needs to push,” Weiss reports.
Crews are widening the bridge deck over Concord Street/Highway 156 and the Mississippi River, and replacing joints. The work takes place on one half of the bridge at a time.
“This project is about maintaining traffic,” Kordosky says. “It will take the fourth lane from Highway 61 and extend it west to Highway 52.”
MnDOT has required the contractor to keep three lanes of traffic flowing throughout most of the project.
“One of the more interesting things on this project is we incentivized the contract to minimize the number of days the contractor could restrict traffic from three lanes to two lanes,” Kordosky says. “The incentive is $20,000 per day, up to $1 million.”
Aiming to receive those funds, the contractor employed zero-turn radius backhoes to reconstruct the shoulders, built up the shoulders to accommodate a third lane, placed temporary pavement and required trucks to back up about one half of a mile to load dirt and then drive out, one after another.
“It was very inefficient, but for $20,000 per day the contractor did it,” Kordosky says.
This spring, the contractor reduced traffic to two lanes for 22 days to complete some necessary repairs to the bridge and concrete rehabilitation in the middle lane.
“We saw and the public saw the problems when the contractor reduced the traffic to two lanes for 22 days,” Kordosky says. “Traffic was horrible. The reason for the incentive was crystal clear when we saw the back ups when traffic was reduced from three lanes to two.”
The contractor also closed the road to two lanes this summer to complete rehabilitating the middle lane eastbound.
The problem is that there are only one or two alternative ways for motorists to cross the river, which led to the decision to incentivize the contractor, Kordosky explains.
“I am proud of the effort the contractor has put forth to manage the impacts to the traveling public,” Kordosky says. “The effort was significant.”
The second is a small project, building median crossovers to prepare for the third and final project.
The Next I-494 Project
The Minnesota River to Hardman Avenue project was scheduled to start in July and finish in the fall of 2020. The $34 million project had not been let as of press time.
The scope of work for the third project includes resurfacing the bridge decks over Interstate-35 eastbound and replacing the joints, repairing pavement on the interstate between 3rd Avenue and the east side of the Minnesota River bridge, improving drainage and retention ponds, replacing lighting, and adding a turn lane and replacing signals at I-494 and Pilot Knob Road.
I-94/I-494/I-694 East Metro Interchange
Another $30 million project in Oakdale, Maplewood and Woodbury will improve the interchange for Interstate 94, I-494, and Interstate 694. Shafer also received this contract.
The work will replace and widen two bridges to improve vertical clearance and increase load capacity. A new bridge foundation was built in the median, adjacent to the current bridge. Then part of the old bridge was slid into place on those piers to be used for traffic on a temporary basis. Crews then demolished what was left of the old bridge and started constructing the new bridge.
Modification to the ramps will improve the curve, and thereby improve safety. The scope includes adding new southbound auxiliary lanes from 10th Street to I-94 and from I-94 to Tamarack Road and northbound and southbound buffer lanes to provide trucks with more space to slow down and negotiate the ramp. Additionally, the contractor will repair pavement and replace asphalt with concrete. The work should finish in 2020.