Fixing the 280

Minnesota 280 was first opened in 1959, an element of a freeway network that was not fully realized. It was designed before Interstate standards became standard.  It is an important route, providing access from I-94 west-bound to I-35W northbound, a link that is otherwise missing from the network.  Wikipedia writes:

Highway 280 was authorized on July 1, 1949,[3] but did not begin construction until 1955. It was completed between Highway 36 and Kasota Avenue in 1959[4][5] and to University Avenue (at that time, highways 125256, and 218) in 1961.[6][7] The highway was linked to Interstate 94 in 1968 upon the freeway’s completion between Minneapolis and St. Paul.[8][9]

South of Como Avenue, 280 was widened and its ramps improved in the mid-1990s. The Larpenteur Avenue/East Hennepin Avenue interchange in Lauderdale was reconstructed in 2009 to eliminate the tight, no-acceleration-lane ramps. The intersection at County Road B was also closed permanently in 2009, as were the unsignaled intersections at Roselawn Avenue and Walnut Street. With construction completed in December 2009, the signal at Broadway Street was modified to allow left turns from northbound 280, thus maintaining a stoplight for southbound 280 only, but Broadway Street traffic can now only turn right (south). Thus, 280 is now in a sense a northbound freeway only, with a single stoplight for southbound traffic.

The 2009 construction project also rehabilitated the concrete pavement between Interstate 94 and Territorial Road. The project also included replacement of the BNSF Railroad bridge on Larpenteur Avenue west of 280; placement of a new median on 280 from south of Como Avenue to Larpenteur Avenue; and noise walls along 280’s east side.

Highway 280 was originally proposed (in the 1960s) to continue farther, turning westward south of its Interstate 94 junction in Saint Paul, and then continuing west into Minneapolis as a freeway running roughly along 28th Street. The route would have continued westbound to about France Avenue South. That freeway was never built, and the ramp stubs at Saint Paul’s 94/280 junction were removed in the early 1980s.


There are several problems.

Its first exit, going northbound is at “University Avenue”, but this really means Franklin Avenue and University Avenue and Territorial Road. The first entrance onto 280 NB after I-94 is from University Avenue and Territorial Road (via Cromwell Avenue, which functions as a one-way frontage road). This often results in spillover traffic on the short NB stub of Cromwell between University and Franklin. This is compounded by traffic signal cycles which are periodically interrupted by the Green Line, while the Green Line itself is often delayed at this intersection. When the intersection was designed, there was no LRT on University Avenue.

Its last exit, going southbound, is to Eustis Street (marked as Robbins Street on the attached figure from Google Maps, it’s not clear where one ends and the other begins). Its last entrance is from Franklin Avenue and Eustis Street (which functions as a SB frontage road), but this is complicated and split into two entrances, one which goes to I-94 EB, (merging with the left lane of Mn280 SB), and one which goes to I-94 WB (merging with the right lane of Mn 280 SB). This split is because it is so close to the highway that weaving is undesirable. However this creates a very awkward dog-leg at Franklin to I-94 EB, trucks taking this dogleg often block both directions of traffic.

When I-94 is congested for some reason (an incident, weather), cut-through traffic uses Franklin Avenue as an alternative in the Prospect Park neighborhood. There are efforts to calm Franklin, and bike lanes (and sidewalks!) have recently been added to the St. Paul side, and are coming to the Minneapolis side.


Minnesota State Highway 280 Reconfiguration Proposal sketch.

Minnesota State Highway 280 Reconfiguration Proposal sketch.

The figure shows a possible solution.

In brief, turn Territorial Road into the location of an urban diamond interchange, and close the entrance and exit ramps off of Franklin.

Two new ramps would need to be constructed: denoted “New Ramp A” and “New Ramp B” in the figure.

New Ramp A is straightforward to construct, and if old Ramps 2 and 3 are closed, should not create significant weaving problems with other entering/exiting traffic. It does require traffic that is going EB on I-94 to merge over 1 lane of traffic to reach the left lane exit, but I think there is sufficient room for this to take place (about 2 city blocks). There are other configurations of Mn 280 (like a mini C-D lane for merging traffic and traffic exiting to WB I-94, so lane changing is more controlled) that could make this work in the space available.

New Ramp B requires closing old Ramp 1. This is small loss. Ramp 1 is redundant with the ramp immediately north off of Territorial. I am not sure why both were constructed. Clearly it saves a stop sign for traffic from the south, but it imposes an awkward downramp onto an up-grade on 280, which creates acceleration problems, particularly for trucks.

The closure of old Ramps 2 and 3, entrances from Franklin Avenue to access I-94 are the greatest accessibility losses. Not that traffic cannot reach their desired destination, it can always use the next exits to the East (Vandalia/Cretin) for eastbound trips or west (Huron Boulevard or Riverside Ave/26th St S) for westbound trips, or circle around to Territorial Road. This latter option is up to an extra six blocks of distance for traffic on Franklin Avenue EB to reach I-94 EB. The others require little or no extra travel distance, but extra travel time if the freeways are free-flowing. (Likely very little extra time if the freeways are congested though). Reducing cut-through traffic does not come without costs, which is reducing freeway access for local traffic.

Old Ramps 4 and 5, which are exits from I-94 EB and WB/Mn-280 to Franklin and University would also be closed. Traffic would travel farther up Mn-280 before exiting. Traffic heading to Prospect Park south of University Avenue (and offices like the Court International Building) would thus have a longer trip. However this greatly reduces intersection conflicts at Franklin and University, which are ill-suited to the demands placed on them here.

This proposal reduces traffic on Franklin Avenue. It reduces traffic, especially truck traffic, crossing University Avenue and the Green Line LRT. It simplifies street patterns both locally and on Mn-280. While it will inconvenience some traffic, it will also change travel demands. As we re-learn repeatedly, build it and they will come, take it away and they will go. Traffic, like work, will expand to fill the space allotted it. This also points up the need to have better street grids in Prospect Park North and the industrial area southeast of University and Mn-280.

This also frees up space for a potential freeway cap on Mn-280 at University Avenue and at Franklin Avenue. I don’t think the demand is there now for such a thing, but land use markets change quickly.

The interchange of Mn-280 and I-94 is likely to be reconsidered as MnDOT considers implementing MnPASS lanes on I-94 between the cities (left exits and entrances mix poorly with center lane – express lanes without elevated structures or tunnels).



Note: In Southern California, interstates are not “I-this” or “California-that” or “route-the other”. They are “The ___”. A freeway in the LA area would be The 101, but don’t be caught dead saying “The 280” up in the Bay Area…they stick to the standard naming convention, sans the.

12 thoughts on “Fixing the 280

  1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    The main flaw in your proposal is that there isn’t enough space between Territorial ramps and I-94 to avoid a way-too-short weave area. Even with revising the SB 280 to EB 94 ramp, you’d have less than 800ft to make that weave…it’d be like the old WB Crosstown weave from Portland Ave. A similar situation would exist northbound between the 94 ramp merge and your proposed Territorial exit, which would also be very tight squeezing under University then up to Territorial in less than 600ft.

    Ramps could be cleaned up, yes…but because of the weave, you’d still have to have separate ramps to/from each direction of 94.

    1. David LevinsonDavid Levinson Post author

      1. Divide the lanes from 280 to 94 upstream into two paths (94EB and 94WB/Territorial), each with a single lane. Merge from Territorial into the right lane of Mn 280. Have a slip ramp downstream of the interchange to 94 EB.

      2. Similarly NB. Keep the traffic from I-94 EB and WB merging onto Mn280 separated into 1 lane sections until after Territorial, with a slip ramp from the left lane into the right lane before the exit.

      1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

        Even with that scenario, you don’t have enough length to do the slip ramp. It would be an extremely short weave…and much worse than your original scenario.

  2. Dan MarshallDan Marshall

    Much of this sounds beneficial, especially for the tangle of Franklin/University. Hopefully it would make Franklin a safer route for bikes.However, it also sounds like a lot more traffic will be pushed north to Territorial, right next to a busy city park.

    Territorial is an important throughway for bikers, including myself, heading to and from Minneapolis from St. Paul. As an alternate to University, it offers much less traffic and wider shoulders. Changing it to a full-fledged diamond interchange would make it deadly for bikers. Drivers entering and exiting a freeway are accelerating quickly and not on the lookout for bikes or pedestrians.

    In the Midway, we have just a few routes to safely bike into and out of our neighborhood and Territorial is the key route to the west. I would expect substantial bikeway improvements on either Territorial or University in order to accommodate this proposed change.

  3. Sean Ryan

    Territorial has geometry issues and would probably require a full bridge replacement to improve sight lines, especially with the amount of semi traffic. I’d also worry about the increased traffic on Raymond which is shaping up into a lovely bike/walk-able destination rich street.

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    As a driver, the awkward ramps off southbound 280 (and especially from Franklin Avenue) to I-94 have always bothered me, particularly the nasty entry to the left (fastest) lane of westbound I-94.

    As a walker, I would hope any change would not substantially boost traffic on Territorial Road. (I dislike walking that stretch of University Avenue, partly because of the existing ramps.) And keep in mind that for truck traffic, parts of Territorial Road are now restricted.

  5. Paddy

    I feel like this is a (dubious) solution in search of a (miniscule) problem.

    As someone who has commutes through these on ramps and off ramps for the past 15 years, I’ve never sat there and thought this needs to be completely redesigned.

    Would cost a TON of money for what amounts to shuffling the deck chairs. I’ve read the article 3 times now and I’m still not sure what the tangible benefit here is.

    Closing ramps 2 and 3 is a horrendous idea. Or more accurately an extremely dangerous solution and your prosped remedy to the above concern doesn’t do the danger justice.

    The proposed design would have deleterious impacts on the SSA rec center and force tons of traffic through the Raymond and Territorial intersection which is currently used by tons of pedestrians with the public housing tower.

    Again what’s the point?

  6. Josh

    I commute through here every day for the past 18 years (work across the street from Hampden Park Coop). Prior to that, I drove through here regularly as a resident of Prospect Park for about 7 years.

    The length of signal on the frontage roads can be a real problem, especially on northbound between Franklin and University. But pushing all this traffic to Territorial will make the traffic much worse. That will be another street for northbound traffic that folks will have to cross. Especially those coming from the U and Prospect Park areas. Granted some of them would cut across by KSTP and then turn left off Territorial.

    For southbound on 94, they will have to go north, then left over the bridge, then left on to the entrance ramp. Holy crap would this create traffic headaches. Imagine working at Court International and having to cross on Franklin bridge, north on Frontage, and then back across on Territorial. I don’t think that is a good idea.

    You say there are other nearby entrances, and there are, but they are pretty busy and can be a challenge to get to in traffic or weather. Huron, with U traffic leaving for the day, almost better off going to Riverside. And the east bound backs on University to get to Cretiin/Vandalia, those can be awful.

    Better money can be spent on working on the traffic flow, road conditions, etc.. of the three crosses and frontage roads.

    1. Ron

      I heard it’s supposed to parallel 280 and go right down Cleveland all the way to 35W. The State Fair Fly By. No speed limit either.

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