As you may remember, the Interstate-94 highway shoulders between downtown Minneapolis and highway 280 were converted to regular lanes of traffic after the I-35W bridge collapsed. The lanes were to be removed once the new bridge opened–but that did not happen! Last month, Transit for Livable Communities wrote a letter to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Metropolitan Council and also urged you to contact those agencies. We asked them to keep their promise and return the lanes to shoulders so they can again be used for bus access during congested periods and as a safe haven for vehicle breakdowns and crashes.
MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorel wrote back to Transit for Livable Communities, thanking us for the letter and the phone calls and emails from our members. In the letter, he noted that MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council plan to leave the shoulder lanes open to all traffic through the fall and winter while they study whether to convert the lanes to “managed lanes.” [A “managed lane” is one that can be controlled for safety and emergency vehicle use, and can be used by transit and carpools. In some cases, managed lanes require single-occupancy vehicles to pay a toll.] The agency rejected TLC’s idea to use overhead message signs or new roadside signs to let travelers know about the study.
On October 8th, MnDOT issued a press release announcing some minor restriping and the proposed managed lane study. The agency hoped its press release would reinforce the temporary status of the lanes. Since then, the temporary fourth lane between the Riverside Avenue exit and the 25th Avenue entrance ramps has been restriped to create an emergency shoulder that can be used by disabled vehicles and buses. This is a welcome outcome, but it still does not fully restore the bus lane that existed before the I-35W bridge collapsed.
While MnDOT’s decision to keep the shoulders open as mixed use lanes is not a full victory for public transit or for traffic safety, it is likely that without TLC’s letters and your actions this decision might have occurred without anyone drawing serious attention to it. Your calls and emails helped keep MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council accountable! Transit for Livable Communities will closely watch the study process, and we will let you know how you can stay involved. If you have a story to tell about your bus ride or vehicle breakdown in that stretch of I-94, please let us know.