Construction junction

Mailbag: The Crosstown in color and ghost jams

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Alert reader Joel had a bit of spare time on his hands recently, so he pasted together some diagrams of the I-35W/Crosstown project and added a little color to help clarify where and what all the new roadways will be. The helpful result can be viewed here. Joel writes:

It’s a 1MB+ file, so it’ll take a while to download. It’s also a PNG, which older versions of IE might have trouble with. 35W is red, 62 is blue, and streets with access to the highways are green. It’s pretty self-explanatory after that.

(When I first pasted in Joel’s quote, I somehow deleted an “s,” which made things “elf-explanatory,” which is something entirely different.)

As we know, even newly designed roads can’t stop all jams, and alert reader Rico Suave points us to this study out of Japan, complete with video. It looks at the “shockwave effect,” which is when a slowdown of no apparent cause moves through freeway traffic — according to the article, it turns out they’re “typically triggered by a single driver slowing down” and “human error.” Roadguy has always wondered about “ghost jams,” and now he knows: It’s the power of the individual to affect society. Lucky us.

Crosstown black hole, a bridge question, and will you get to drive a bus?

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Pasted below is Roadguy’s column from today’s paper; if you’ve read it elsewhere, please skip to the end to leave your comments. And if you’re stopping by to watch the Roadguy bus-driving video, please click here. Thanks.

Alert reader David knows he’s going to hit congestion when he heads to the Minneapolis-Richfield border, but he still wants the previews of just how bad it’s going to be:

I cannot find any traffic website showing drive time in the Crosstown. Obviously, this is due to the massive construction project that started in May. Are there any traffic cameras/websites where I can check traffic in that area?

Escape routes are few in the Crosstown Canyon, and so are traffic cameras, which got clear-cut with the sound walls and much of the greenery. Unfortunately for David, the various traffic websites all used the same cameras, which were operated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. So the black hole of information, like all black holes, is not easily escaped.

The good news is that the cameras should be up and running again by the end of the month, according to Todd Kramacsz, a supervisor in MnDOT’s traffic management center. In the meantime, David, think of the congestion as your free daily mystery.

Alert reader Mary Jo, meanwhile, wants some reassurance about the 90-year-old bridge she takes to work every day:

Can you confirm that officials have inspected the Central Avenue Bridge to make sure it can accommodate the increased traffic (due to the loss of the 35W bridge)? I realize I may be paranoid, but I take the bridge downtown each morning for work, and feel the same small vibrations each time a large number of cars (or one large truck) pass by going northbound on the bridge.”

Matt Laible, a spokesman for the city of Minneapolis, said the public works folks are very confident in Mary Jo’s bridge, which is officially known as the 3rd Avenue Bridge. (It’s named after the street at its southern end, whereas the 10th Avenue Bridge is named after the street on its northern end. Go figure.) Such concrete arch bridges were built to withstand fully loaded roadways and much more.

Because a state highway runs across it, the 3rd Avenue Bridge is actually MnDOT’s baby. Spokesman Kent Barnard, who notes that bridges are designed to vibrate, says it was inspected in July 2006, and nothing major turned up. It’ll be checked again soon as part of the post-collapse statewide inspections.

Finally today, several alert readers who followed Roadguy’s bus-driving adventure in last week’s column (or watched the cone-crushing two-minute video online) wanted to know whether they could ever try driving a bus. Some even said they’d be willing to pay.

“I guess the best we could say right now is that Metro Transit is considering it for next year,” said Bob Gibbons, the agency’s spokesman. They’re thinking of allowing “a small number of licensed drivers” to try a course that’s a bit smaller than the one Roadguy tried, and it wouldn’t include any backing up. (Sure, make it easier now.)

The final decision, Gibbons said, rests with the folks in the agency’s risk management department.

Let’s hope they don’t watch the video first.

Uneven pavement: How are Minnesota’s roads?

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Roadguy is about to welcome some houseguests who hail from Phoenix, and their visit is timely for a couple of reasons. One, it’s going to be fairly toasty around here this week, so the family will feel right at home. And two, today’s Strib has a big story about pavement, and people from Phoenix know about pavement. They’ve got lots of parking lots and wide streets, and Roadguy is pretty sure it was in Phoenix that someone once showed him a yard that had been completely paved over with concrete painted green to resemble a lawn. (It doesn’t get much more low-maintenance than that, but things get tricky if you’re into rugby or Jarts.)

Roadguy isn’t as interested in Arizona asphalt as he is in the stuff closer to home, of course, so he’d like to hear your thoughts: How do Minnesota’s roads seem to you? Has the pavement situation gotten better or worse? Are there particular highways that you’d give special attention to? Share your thoughts below. (And if Roadguy is misremembering and the green-concrete yard is actually in, say, Bloomington, feel free to comment on that as well.)

Also, a Roadguy reminder: A bit of westbound I-94 north of the Lowry Tunnel is down to one lane two lanes starting today. Click here for a Strib update.

The freeway of your dreams

Monday, June 4th, 2007


Imagine four wide-open lanes, stretching as far as the eye can see. Imagine a freeway without Morons, without stop-and-go traffic, without anyone cutting you off as you try to move into the next lane. In fact, you can change lanes as often you like — there’s no one else around. It’s all about you.

Such freeways, alas, are the stuff of fantasy, but the CrapCam photo is real — taken Sunday afternoon, it shows I-35W from the 38th Street bridge in Minneapolis. The southbound lanes were closed entirely over the weekend, and the northbound lanes could be accessed from only a few local streets. The empty highway would’ve been a great location for a six-mile-long block party. If only Roadguy had thought to take out the proper permits.

Bike trail closed (for a bit), road closed (forever)

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Alert reader Z. wrote in last week with a question:

NoBike.jpg I took my bike to work finally today [Thursday]. I bike from Highland, St. Paul to an office building near 394 & 100. It says the Cedar Trail will be closing in a few days. Is this for the new stadium? How long will it be closed for?

The next day, Roadguy miraculously received an e-mail about ballpark-related road closings, and it contained the answer to Z.’s question:

The Cedar Lake Bike Trail will close to all traffic for up to 2 months from Dunwoody Blvd./Linden 12th St. N./3rd Ave. N. while some work takes place on the ballpark. Once that work is completed, the trail will be re-established in July to its current 3rd Avenue terminus to accommodate bicycle and foot traffic. Signed detours are posted.

A map of the bike detour is here. And if you fail to avoid the closed area, your bike might end up a different color:

While the Cedar Lake Trail is closed for two months, MnDOT will use this opportunity to paint the Interstate 94 bridges located under the Cedar Lake trail. [Roadguy notes: I think they meant "over" the trail.] This part of the bridge painting project is anticipated to be completed in approximately three weeks, weather permitting.

So there’ll be some short-term pain for bikers downtown, but the long-term gain is that, eventually, Z. and anyone else will be able to bike to baseball games, light rail, and even the planned Northstar line.

However, anyone who was particularly fond of a certain stretch of 3rd Avenue North will enter a period of mourning. From the same e-mail:

At 6 a.m. Monday, May 21, 2007, 3rd Avenue North from the entrance of 394 to 7th Street North will close to all traffic, vehicle and pedestrian. This road is being removed to accommodate the building of the new Twins ballpark and will not re-open. Signed detours are posted. Anyone using 3rd Avenue North south of 5th Street North will end up on westbound I-394.

A friend of mine used to refer to that part of downtown as “Chutes and Ladders” — one wrong turn, and you’re sliding down a ramp on a one-way trip to the edges of the city.

You can keep an eye on construction in the area at

Road work ahead — and lots of it

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

Cones.jpgRoadguy still has road construction on the brain, and he’s not the only one. For one thing, MnDOT unveiled its big list of summer highway projects today, and Minnesotans who have plans to drive anywhere between now and November can peruse the maps with trepidation — just how long is it going to take to get to Aunt Marilyn’s Fourth of July shindig THIS year?

Simply stewing about the Orange Barrels of Doom won’t do, of course — such matters must be discussed. Alert reader Andy, for one, e-mailed Roadguy yesterday:

Topic suggestion: The MnDOT plan to completely close Hwy. 36 in North St. Paul to shorten a project to seven months. I know the Crosstown disaster impacts a lot of people, but this 36 plan will mess up a chunk of the NE metro.

Indeed it will, as this story from Sunday’s Strib indicates. Curiously, an earlier plan for the Crosstown would have shut down sections of Hwy. 62 for extended periods. Check out this excerpt from a 2001 Strib article:

[MnDOT said] the eastbound lanes between Penn and Portland avenues would be closed for one year, eight months. The estimated three- to four-year closure of the westbound lanes is still under study.

Four years? Gee, I wonder why that didn’t fly.

The closing of Hwy. 36 apparently didn’t draw sufficient backlash to produce a change o’ plans, and a letter from Tuesday’s paper suspects money is at the root (click here and scroll down). Could be; if nothing else, Minnesota’s finances definitely aren’t what they were in 2001, when the state mailed out $791 million in rebates.

That’s ancient history, but if you have thoughts about total highway closings, the Hwy. 36 project, or any of the other upcoming road-construction chaos, please share below.