Driver Frustration Mounts Over I-35 in Minneapolis

Frustration over MnDOT’s clumsy management of the I-35W construction project in Minneapolis has driven some motorists over the line. The Star Tribune’s coverage of drivers’ misdeeds amounts to the equivalent of laying on the horn in the newspaper.

Signs on both sides of the entrance ramp leading from 31st Street and Stevens Avenue to southbound I-35W tell motorists, “Do Not Enter.” Yet dozens of vehicles an hour are blowing right by them to use the ramp reserved exclusively for buses and emergency vehicles.

The same thing is happening on the ramp from northbound I-35W to 31st and Lake Streets, even though the exit is marked with signs and the words “Buses Only” are painted on the pavement.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is asking motorists to knock it off. “We realize it is inconvenient,” said MnDOT spokesman David Aeikens. “We can’t close the road. We need buses to get through. We are hoping people will do the right thing and not drive illegally on the ramps.”

The ramps have been off limits since last month–except for buses. But motorists have caught on to one of the state’s main motivations behind the strategy–namely, forcing more of them onto public transportation.

…The agency left them open for buses to provide a way around congestion and a quicker route to downtown Minneapolis via Park and Portland avenues. The goal was to get more people to take transit and reduce the number of vehicles moving through the area where the freeway has been squeezed to two or three lanes instead of the normal five in each direction.

“We can move more people on a bus,” Aeikens said.

But with so many drivers using the exit and entrance ramps, some buses have had to wait to get on them, negating the transit advantage they are supposed to have.

No one is suggesting that drivers go out of their way to flaunt the law. But something else is going on when the State Highway Patrol can hardly keep up with the steady stream of violators.

At the outset, MnDOT was paying the State Patrol $100 an hour to guard the ramps, but it’s not an option to have them there 24 hours a day, Aeikens said.

“They should not have to be there; they have better things to do,” Aeikens said. “We realize having to go to another exit adds extra time. We’d appreciate if people would use the detours.”

But with tensions already running this high at the start of a multi-year project perhaps MnDot should get the message and go back to the drawing board. And while they’re at it, how about adding more lanes?