Answers to the two most frequently-asked questions about the 35W Johnson Street interchange:
1) What’s happening with the construction project there?
Not much. The project is on hold until residents and engineers can work out noise issues.
2) If that’s so, then why is the interchange all torn up?
That’s storm drain maintenance work that isn’t related to the other project. If motorists take the Stinson/New Brighton Boulevard exit, they can cut over to Johnson Street part-way along the ramp.
Hennepin County calls the $13 million project that affects northbound 35W the Fourth Street South Ramp Project, because the most extensive work involves replacing that ramp, which is near downtown Minneapolis. Part of that project is constructing an additional lane on the East Side, between the Fourth Street Southeast entrance and the Johnson Street exit.
Noise, however, and the walls officials want to build to contain it, have become issues.
Officials say the increased noise from the new arrangement calls for sound-abatement walls in six places along the route. And according to Hennepin County’s Nicholas Peterson, the planning process for those walls, which includes a vote among the residents whose homes would receive a 5-decibel or more noise reduction from such a wall, hasn’t gone smoothly.
Northeast and Southeast residents raised concerns that the walls would have a negative impact on the very properties they are designed to help, by blocking out sun, obstructing views and attracting graffiti.
“The project can’t move forward until the noise problem is worked out,” Peterson said. “The project currently is in a holding process so we can figure out how to work though the process with the neighborhoods.”
Officials are “trying to develop a work plan to address the noise issue,” he said, but “we haven’t sent anything out yet.”
According to Hennepin County information, the project “provides an auxiliary traffic lane from University Avenue SE to the Stinson Boulevard NE exit. Auxiliary lanes are located at the outer edge of the roadway for use in speed change, lane weaving, maneuvering of entering and exiting traffic, truck climbing, and other purposes supplementary to through traffic. Auxiliary lanes generally extend from one entrance ramp to an exit ramp and allow drivers more decision time to make maneuvers onto or off of the freeway. In general terms, one can think of an auxiliary lane as a place that allows drivers to enter the freeway directly into a temporary lane and/or exit in a temporary lane with more decision time than a traditional ramp connection.
“The auxiliary lane proposed for this project requires some pavement widening and as a result, retaining walls. Shoulder areas will be reduced due to right of way constraints. The additional lane improves the ability to provide, and does not preclude, a future managed lane on northbound I-35W such as a HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane or MnPass lane.”
To make space for all that, however, the plan calls for permanently closing the southern portion of the Stinson and New Brighton Boulevard exit ramp. But part way through the next ramp to the north, the Johnson Street ramp, the lanes will be opened so motorists can reach the same destinations that the Stinson/New Brighton Boulevard exit ramp provided, as well as the Johnson Street ramp.
Meanwhile, Peterson said the work that’s currently closing the southern part of the Johnson Street exit ramp is not related to the project. It’s Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) maintenance work.
According to a release from Bre Grand of MnDOT, the ramp closure “is needed as crews rehabilitate a storm tunnel beneath Broadway Avenue, adjacent to the Johnson Street ramp.
“Motorists may still reach Johnson Street via the Stinson Boulevard/New Brighton Boulevard exit, just south of the Johnson Street exit.”
Grand said the work is expected to be completed, and the ramp reopened, by Feb. 17.