My workweek takes me from Plymouth to Chanhassen and back again about three times each week. Traveling south in the morning isn’t a bad commute, especially since MnDot widened 494 south of 394 a few years ago. That extra lane accommodates all but the very peak of morning rush hour for travel south of Highway 55, as it should.
Driving north in the evening is another story! Leaving work at noon to beat the traffic is rarely an option, so I’ve devised an over-hill-and-dale route that keeps me moving at a pace faster than the no-go of 494, except when stopped by those pesky red lights. Since this piece isn’t about over-hill-and-dale routes, I’m not going to disclose my favorite route north (another reason being that I’d hate to have the streets.com vast readership further clogging my 494 bypass). Because of my struggles with 494, I was eager to attend the November 19 meeting held by the City of Plymouth and MnDot to reveal MnDot’s plan to alleviate my pain.
I arrived at Plymouth city hall about 4 minutes before the meeting was to start. It was obvious the meeting coordinators either had severely underestimated the number of residents interested in easier travel on 494 through Plymouth, or wanted to make a point that this is a big issue to residents of Plymouth, as the room was standing room only and participants had begun to spill into the hallway.
Undaunted, Scott Pederson, MnDot Metro District Preliminary Design Engineer began the program, raising his voice as though sincerely hoping that those in the hallway would be able to hear. Shortly after he began, a group of four or five business suit-clad individuals, one whom I recognized as Kelli Slavik, the mayor of Plymouth, entered the room from behind Mr. Pederson. They approached Pederson and, after exchanging a few sentences, asked those assembled if they’d rather move to the Plymouth City Council chambers, where all could be seated. The consensus was yes, so the crowd slowly moved down the hall a few doorways and reassembled in the chambers.
Mr. Pederson began, or re-began, the program by laying out details of MnDot’s plan for 494, making it clear that the meeting was to answer questions about an established plan, not to solicit ideas. MnDot has no plans at this time to add additional lanes in either direction to 494 within the boundaries of Plymouth. The plan is to construct, using 14 feet of road-width currently used by the shoulder in each direction, a temporary additional lane. This “dynamic shoulder” will be open only during the appropriate rush hour in each direction, changing 494 from two lanes to three lanes heading south in the morning and from two lanes to three lanes north in the afternoon, and this only when deemed necessary by MnDot’s traffic sensors. These lanes, from Fish Lake Road to Highway 55, will not be considered permanent lanes, but will be built to compensate for the fact that permanent lanes are not in the plan until sometime in an undetermined future. Construction is set to begin in July of 2014 and the first step will involve widening the south-bound lane shoulders. South-bound traffic will be routed to one of the north-bound lanes and vice versa, as the project continues. Construction will not take place during winter months and is expected to be completed in fall of 2016.
When asked, Pederson explained that when permanent lanes are built, they will be “managed lanes,” meaning lanes similar to the HOV lanes on 35W in Bloomington. Throughout the rest of the evening, during the Q&A period, many of the attendees asked and asked again why permanent lanes could not be built right away. Mr. Pederson remained remarkably calm and cool while answering the same question repeatedly. He obviously is a pro at handling crowds that aren’t getting what they want. His reply, over and over, was that a permanent additional lane in each direction is not in the plan and will not be funded in the near future for this stretch of 494, the narrowest section of 494.
Despite the audience’s repeated requests for a permanent fix to the gridlock in Plymouth, Mr. Pederson did a fine job of representing MnDot’s viewpoint, staying cool, calm and polite in answering each question. I came away from the meeting happy that they’re going to be doing SOMETHING, wishing that the inconvenience of construction would not be happening to accommodate something considered temporary, but very impressed by Pederson’s respectful handling of the crowd.