PLYMOUTH, Minn. - Relief just may be in sight for drivers backed up in the daily bottleneck on I-494 in Plymouth. MnDOT announced a possible short term solution to the long history of congestion in the area, by widening the right hand shoulder of the freeway in both directions.
The city of Plymouth has long rallied for a third lane, in what is the only two lane stretch of 494 between Highway 55 and East Fish Lake Road. Around 100,000 cars a day crawl through the corridor, a dreaded stretch for drivers who often escape by using back roads.
"I've been at the city now 15 years and before I came to the city, it was an issue," said Plymouth Mayor Kelli Slavik, who says neighborhood streets have more wear and tear from drivers diverting from freeway traffic.
The backup is also felt at nearby businesses.
"It turns into a parking lot out there, everybody is stopped and stuck. It can be pretty ugly," said Patrick Chapman, manager of Haskell's Plymouth liquor store, just off 494. He's been facing the gridlock for 15 years.
On Tuesday, January 15, MnDOT just presented plans to the Plymouth City Council to widen the right hand shoulder lane, what the agency calls a "dynamic shoulder." It would open and close during peak times of traffic, alleviating congestion as needed. Drivers would be alerted through a green arrow or red "X."
MnDOT had a $34 million dollar project already in the works for 494 in 2014, to repave the road and widen and redeck three bridges, along with adding noise walls at certain locations. The bridge work is slated for Schmidt Lake Road, the Canadian Pacific railroad tracks and County Road 47. MnDOT says it's cost effective to widen the shoulder at the same time.
"I credit them for coming up with a high impact low cost solution for 494," said Slavik. "We will take this short term solution and make the best of it."
MnDOT says if all goes well, drivers could use this widened shoulder lane by the fall of 2015, after the two season construction project is completed.
First, Slavik says the city of Plymouth must pass a resolution supporting the plan, as well as iron out details with the Met Council.
MnDOT will also hold open houses for public input, and admits the widened shoulder is not a permanent fix.
West area project manager Scott Pederson says this is a solution that could last from 15- 20 years, adding that long term, MnDOT will still explore adding a third MnPass Lane. MnDOT will launch a comprehensive study of MnPASS for the entire I-494 corridor with a year.
For businesses like Haskell's, the change can't come fast enough.
"I think we should get into the new century and do it right," said Jim Slattery, Haskell's Plymouth owner.
Interested drivers can follow the project's progress on MnDOT's website and sign up for updates.
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