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Businesses prepare for road 'pain' with 494 upgrades

Local businesses have been speaking with Minnesota Department of Transportation officials to get some insight on how another round of upgrades to I-494 in Woodbury will affect traffic and customer patterns. File photo by Scott Wente.

Local businesses are cautiously reviewing plans for a major Interstate 494 road construction project this spring.

The work, which could last more than four months, will include lane diversions, require ramp closures at three Woodbury interchanges and generally snarl traffic from north of I-94 to the Mississippi River.

Economic challenges caused by the temporary closure of the Valley Creek Road bridge in 2006 came to mind for Kathy Bayliss as she heard details of the upcoming Minnesota Department of Transportation project.

Bayliss works for Wellington Management, which manages the Valley Creek Mall. She said she hopes the business detour signs MnDOT plans to use during construction will make it clear where the mall is located. Customers accessing the mall's 23 tenants from I-494 may need help navigating the construction.

"It was just really tough on those businesses when the bridge was down," Bayliss said. "Anything we can do to add visibility - we want that for them."

City employees have been helpful to businesses during road construction, she noted.

MnDOT officials say they, too, want to help businesses and commuters prepare for the project, which is slated to begin as soon as the ground thaws. They created a Web site for to the project; it will include frequent construction updates.

They also convened two meetings for area businesses last week and plan a public open house as the project nears. Once work begins, they will install roadway signs showing motorists how to access businesses in several areas of Woodbury along I-494.

'Confusing' work

The improvements are going to be significantly more involved than the 2006 Valley Creek Road project and work conducted on I-494 last summer in preparation for the 2010 construction.

There will be lane changes, alternating exit and entrance ramp closures and detours.

"This one will be a lot different," said Adam Josephson, MnDOT area engineer. "It might be a little more confusing to people."

The interstate will be expanded to three continuous lanes in each direction, from I-94 to the Wakota Bridge south of Lake Road. Crews will begin by improving the southbound lanes, so all traffic will be diverted to the northbound side. Southbound entrances and exits will be closed during that work.

After about 13 weeks of work, likely ending in May, traffic will be moved to the southbound lanes so that the northbound lanes can be expanded and pavement fixed.

During a 10-day period in each phase, only one lane of traffic in each direction will flow over I-94.

Other work includes construction of new cable and concrete median barriers spanning the construction zone and a noise-reducing wall on the east side of I-494 south of Lake Road.

MnDOT wants to finish the I-494 project in conjunction with the planned July completion of the Wakota Bridge spanning the Mississippi River.

"Think of July 20 as kind of being the end of the pain," Marc Briese, MnDOT business liaison, told local businesses at a recent meeting about the project. Major construction should be done by July, but work will continue into August.

Some business leaders have the same question local residents will have: How am I going to get around Woodbury during the construction?

John LeClair recently looked at a detailed map of the project, trying to figure out how his employees will be affected. Some commute to work at LeClair Insurance, on Upper Afton Road, from Wisconsin, LeClair said, while he drives in from south of Woodbury. The office does not really have walk-in customers.

"The biggest impact will be employees," LeClair said. "It's just a matter of convenience."

Incentives offered

The I-494 project is expected to cost $20 million, Briese said. The work will be done jointly with improvements to Interstate 694 from I-94 north toward Highway 36 in Oakdale. The I-694 project will cost another $20 million.

MnDOT has not awarded a construction bid yet, but the agency already says it will offer the contractor incentives to finish ahead of schedule and will use penalties if the project gets behind.

The contractor could earn up to an extra $75,000 if the lane expansion and improvement work is completed early, said MnDOT engineer Todd Grugel. Also, a $30,000 bonus will be offered if the contractor completes work on the northbound and southbound sides of the Valley Creek Road interchange ahead of schedule.

While Tamarack Road and Lake Road interchange ramps also will see temporary closures, there are incentives for early completion of the work at Valley Creek Road because it is a busier area.

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