Closing Highway 169 in the Era of Smartphones: Two Different Responses

The topic of the US 169 Nine Mile Creek bridge closure has been a good source of stories in the local news. TV stations and newspapers have gotten out and covered how the bridge closure has affected the very wealthy Parkwood Knolls neighborhood in Edina, but also how Edina police and public works were meeting the challenge. I went out to take some photos of the area to show how the Edina side and the Hopkins side were handling the bridge closure. The sky was amazing this Sunday morning, making the bland topic a bit more interesting. If you just want to see the photos, scroll down.

History of the immediate area

The current project in the news is a closing of US 169 for removing the Nine Mile Creek Bridge and replacing it with a causeway. When County 18 was run through here as a freeway in the late 70’s and early 80’s, County 18’s freeway design ended up replacing the old local street named Washington Avenue that crossed the Nine Mile Creek swamp headwaters as a causeway. The few decades after the freeway sliced through did not prove kind to the bridge design. Winter road salt has been blamed as a primary reason the bridge was marked as requiring replacement, but putting a bridge through a large swamp turned out to be a bad choice here. The replacement will not be a bridge, but return to a causeway (with tunnels for wildlife and flood water to cross from side to side underneath).

After County 18 was upgraded to a freeway through Eden Prairie and Bloomington, and the old Bloomington Ferry Bridge was replaced, US 169 was rerouted taking over the entire Hennepin County Road 18. You will still hear the occasional old timer still call it County Road 18.

There is another history topic here that is worth exploring but I’ll leave for another time, and that is how suburbs chose to develop and link with neighboring suburbs. Western Edina suffers (enjoys?) poor connections through the city and connections to neighboring suburbs. It seems that clear and simple north/south connections within the city of Edina itself and with neighboring suburbs were also a choice the city denied, instead opting to piggyback on freeways and county roads. Old Washington Avenue once functioned as a local link, but when it was upgraded into a freeway it divided neighborhoods like a wall.

Nine Mile Creek Bridge neighborhoods in 1947

Nine Mile Creek Bridge neighborhoods in 1947, If you look close you can see how the creek was straightened and the attempts to convert the swamp to agriculture. It didn’t work out. Click for large

Nine Mile Creek neighborhoods in 2017. Red box marks the bridge that closed January.

Nine Mile Creek neighborhoods in 2017. Red box marks the closed portion including the bridge January. Click for large

Recent experience on TH 100

Recently, a parallel freeway to US 169, TH 100, had a single lane added in each direction in a mile-long stretch in Saint Louis Park for a total project cost of $68 million. Like most highways in the central metro with frequent bridge intersections, the TH 100 mile in Saint Louis Park had three bridges: a rail/bike trail bridge, a highway interchange, and ta major local arterial street. The years-long TH 100 project finally completed last summer involved alternating closures to the two bridges used by cars.

The Minnetonka Boulevard and TH 7 bridge closures involved detours to local traffic and caused a significant number of complaints that attracted a fair share of local news reporting as MNDOT and the city tried to come up with solutions. Wooddale Avenue was notable in the distress it caused during rush hours. Congestion delays became so lengthy that impatient drivers drove in frustration through the Sorenson neighborhood, flying through stop signs and taking every bit of the legal 30 MPH limit, or faster. One answer to the Sorenson cut throughs was to put in barriers at street intersections that forced drivers to move around them in a circle, like a micro roundabout. Another answer was to put up barricades on the Wooddale Avenue bridge to restrict turns, forcing drivers to find other routes.

Today, detours in the age of smartphones

The Nine Mile Creek bridge has now been closed now, official detours posted (use 494 and 100), and commuters put to the challenge. MNDOT and adjacent cities of Hopkins and Edina held numerous public meetings to make people aware. MNDOT said they would do what they could do within their control, but cities would have to manage their streets as they saw necessary for local requirements.

But no one understood the effect of the smartphone GPS apps. You can put up “local traffic only” signs (as you will see in my photo tour below), but the modern smartphone app knows better and will direct drivers through if there indeed is a route through.

The most direct route around the closed Nine Mile Creek Bridge routes east through Parkwood Knolls, a neighborhood where important sports celebrities have homes, though many homes are more modest around $800,000. (Parkwood Knolls is interesting in that a large portion of it is in the Hopkins School District, 270, not the Edina School District, 273). Another route goes west through Hopkins where a condo or townhouse goes for around $80,000. Hmm.

The news stories reported that the traffic spiked on Malibu Drive in Edina from just over 1,000 AADT to over 5,000. I think some compassion here is called for with such a drastic change. Not only was it a five-fold increase, the drivers were some of the worst of variety of driver—the dreaded “inconvenienced rush hour commuter”.

The photos below show how Edina and Hopkins each dealt with the smartphone routing through their respective neighborhoods. As the linked articles detail, Edina tried incrementally more restrictive approaches. First, stop signs and police enforcement. Second, chicanes. Third, total closure of a collector street, inconveniencing the wider Parkwood Knolls neighborhood residents in order to calm the detoured residents. The apps now see this total closure and offer new routes around it. The chicanes have been dismantled because of the immense calm. Hopkins first went with enforcement, but now has intermittent work week rush hour road closures. I haven’t been able to verify whether the smartphone apps acknowledge the intermittent closures during rush hour. Total closure is off the table for Hopkins, but temporary closings plus police enforcement is providing a measure of calm without crippling the southern neighborhood residents’ access.

Photo tour of the current detour

So I went out on a Sunday morning to take some photos of the current state of how the bridge closure was being handled by the local cities on each side of US 169 by Nine Mile Creek.

Washington Avenue southbound closed for construction crews

Looking south from Hopkins into Edina. You can get out but, but you cannot get in? It turns out the road closure isn’t a reverse Escape from Edina scenario. It’s closed because the construction crews are reconstructing the sound wall along the highway, and the highway is just that close to Washington Avenue.

 

United Health campus in the distance

United Health campus in the distance

 

View from 5th St bridge towards Edina

View from 5th Street bridge towards Edina, Malibu Drive curves up the hill.

 

The entrance to the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood from the north.

The entrance to the Parkwood Knolls neighborhood from the north.

 

Removed chicanes from previous traffic calming attempts.

Both Malibu Drive and Parkwood Road have long straight stretches with no intersecting roads to fill with roundabouts like Sorenson in Saint Louis Park. These chicanes were implemented in a way to force drivers to alternate to pass through. With the road closed now at Dovre Drive, the traffic wave has dissipated and the chicanes were pulled off to the side.

 

Dovre Drive closed on east

Pretty sad Road Closed sign, but in the distance you can see the barrier closing the road.

 

Full barrier. Appears one of the residents parks his car on this side of the barrier and walks home across the other side. Avoiding the crazy detour he'd otherwise have every time.

Full barrier. Appears one of the residents parks his car on this side of the barrier and walks home across the other side. Avoiding the crazy detour he’d otherwise have every time.

 

Amazing cluster of signs all in one place. In case you missed the message.

Amazing cluster of signs all in one place. In case you missed the message. Looking south towards Dovre Drive from Londonderry Road, a block from the Bren Road bridge.

 

On to the Hopkins side

Movable "Road Closed" sign put out during week days, open on weekends

Movable “Road Closed” sign put out during week days, open on weekends. View looking north into Hopkins towards Westbrooke Way.

 

Detour To Your New Home?

Making an opportunity out of the bridge construction!

 

Movable "Road Closed" sign put out during week days, open on weekends

Movable “Road Closed” sign put out during weekdays to close 11th Avenue on the south end, open on weekends, but forcing weekday commuters over to Shady Oak Road.

 

11th Avenue temporary pedestrian crossing improvements

The orange posts here along 11th Avenue are temporary, put out to narrow the vehicle lanes so pedestrians don’t have so far to walk. This needs to be permanent, in my opinion.

 

11th Avenue temporary pedestrian crossing improvements

More orange posts here along 11th Avenue are temporary, put out to narrow the vehicle lanes so pedestrians don’t have so far to walk. These also need to be permanent, in my opinion.

 

Movable "Road Closed" sign put out during week days, open on weekends

Movable “Road Closed” sign put out during weekdays to close 11th Avenue on the north end, open on weekends, but forcing week day commuters over to Shady Oak Road.

 

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10 Responses to Closing Highway 169 in the Era of Smartphones: Two Different Responses

  1. GlowBoy March 22, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    Good overview of the issue. Waze and other apps definitely call for more closures, chicanes and other measures to calm the cut-through traffic.

    Side note: I’m disappointed that this project, occurring at THE SAME TIME as completion of the final segment of the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail, doesn’t allow for the path to pass under the new causeway. My understanding is that the path was originally planned to cross under the causeway on a boardwalk (and there remains a sad section of dead-end trail on the west side of 169 that was supposed to make this connection), but was rerouted to cross over on the Bren Road bridge due to the cost and other issues with constructing the boardwalk across a wetland.

    But since the causeway’s being replaced and rebuilt, couldn’t the path have been suspended under it, greatly reducing the cost versus the boardwalk option? The overpass on Bren is a beg-button-infested nightmare of multi-lane on and off ramps. Maybe the worst spot on the entire trail from Hopkins to the east end of Richfield. Seems like a big missed opportunity here.

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson March 22, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

      I entirely agree that there was a huge missed opportunity to coordinate with the regional trail. The stump of the dead end trail has been there for a few years to be connected in the future, certainly not a surprise for the 169 project designers. I’ve seen the Nine Mile Creek trail squeezed along the onramp to TH 100 northbound. There was a lost opportunity to put a trail underpass through the causeway then up along the onramp to northbound 169.

      I’m not saying the trail link needed to be part of the causeway or any thing else in this, but there IS going to be a 9′ high tunnel under the causeway for wildlife and maintenance workers to pass from side to side. Put this 9′ high tunnel directly where the stump trail ends, extend it under to other side, then slide a future Nine Mile Creek trail extension to the Bren Road interchange where the main trail passes.

      Coulda been.

      • Tenderfoot March 22, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

        I live nearby and used to walk my dog under 169…people would lay down plywood and sections of dock to create unofficial bridges over the creek, and so I am quite sure that if they include any sort of “maintenance” tunnel through the causeway it will become the de facto public trail in short order. It’s way too convenient and too close to existing trails for that not to happen!

        On a side note, based on the Edina city manager’s latest blog post, it looks like they may be putting in sidewalks along Lincoln Dr. where it meets Dovre Dr. in 2018- long overdue!

      • GlowBoy March 22, 2017 at 4:55 pm #

        They’re already planning a passageway under 169 – and not routing the trail through it, forcing trail users to deal with the surface traffic and Unconstitutional beg-buttons?! Ugh.

        • Eric Anondson
          Eric Anondson March 22, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

          To be honest, no one at the public meetings could get an answer where the “wildlife/maintenance” tunnel would be placed and there were no plans available of what the causeway would look like beyond an artist rough sketch.

          I couldn’t locate one on the project webpage, but I only made a cursory look for them.

          http://www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/projects/hwy169hopkins/

          Wouldn’t it be fascinating to find out the tunnel perfectly lined up with the trail dead end on purpose but it was never mentioned? Maybe for fear the trail opponents on the Edina side would be riled up… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  2. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary March 22, 2017 at 1:52 pm #

    I guess I am a little confused by terminology. I had understood causeway to be a low-slung, long bridge — like the existing bridge, or the bridge over Lake Nokomis, or the (much longer) Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. I see now that a causeway more commonly refers to an artificial land bridge — I suppose like the alignment of 66th through Lake Cornelia.

    I’m surprised they’d go this direction. I would assume this would be a lot more disruptive to the wetlands and natural area.

    Also: I love that apartment building’s sign! Way to capitalize on the situation.

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson March 22, 2017 at 2:17 pm #

      My understanding from attending the public hearings was that the geology of the swamp made piers to put bridge spans upon was horribly expensive relative to the cost of excavating 30′ and filling it with a sort of gravel upon which the highway would “float” atop. One attendee at one hearing I sat through chimed in saying it sounded like it was similar to the sort of Roman causeway roads through the moors of England. The MNDOT spokesman smiled and kinda nodded.

      The project page mentions flooding was considered, that the berm would affect stormwater. There was skepticism from some in the public that the numerous “tubes” being put through weren’t going to be enough for the most extreme flooding that might happen. The MNDOT spokesmen mentioned the stormwater modeling showed everything would be fine. I wish I knew what sort of flood event the models said would be a problem…

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 22, 2017 at 2:35 pm #

    I just went on a long drive north and south through the Midwest back and forth to Louisiana. It was really wild when Google would route us off the interstate to avoid traffic, leading us through really oddball suburban or rural roads. These “faith-based” detours were some of the most interesting moments of the trip, in fact, but I could see how people who lived along one of these routes might get really pissed off about having >2X the traffic on their conveniently located street.

    Thanks for writing about this fascinating topic!

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller March 22, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

      Off topic, but I love road trips using US Highways instead of the interstate. Not that the scenery around the highway is all that great, but those roads actually go to towns and cities instead of around them and there’s lot more to see.

      Depending on traffic, it’s not always that much slower either.

      • GlowBoy March 22, 2017 at 4:56 pm #

        Agreed, the US highways often run parallel to the Interstates and go through towns that the “I” freeways miss.

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