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Minnesota’s I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Reconstruction Nears Completion

by: Mark Bird
Minnesota's I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Reconstruction Nears Completion
Minnesota's I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Reconstruction Nears Completion
Careful planning and collaboration have resulted in a much-improved section of road with the I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Project in Minnesota.
Careful planning and collaboration have resulted in a much-improved section of road with the I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Project in Minnesota.
Along a 39-mile stretch of Interstate 94 between the towns of Maple Grove and Clearwater, drivers traveling through Minnesota endured two years of extensive construction. Improvements and upgrades – including new travel lanes, rebuilding of bridges, resurfacing of deteriorating pavement, access lane construction and drainage improvements, and the addition of a new diverging diamond interchange – have meant extensive lane closures and detours along a heavily traveled route into the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area.

Now, as a major Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) project nears completion, with a final section of eastbound roadway to be finished this year, drivers are already reaping the benefits of safer and smoother travel.

Interstate 94 provides an essential link for freight between the Great Lakes and the western U.S. and Canada. It extends 1,585 miles from the junction of I-90 in Billings, Montana, to Port Huron, Michigan/Point Edward, Ontario. Along the Minnesota corridor impacted by the project, annual average daily traffic ranges from 95,000 vehicles in Maple Grove to 40,000 vehicles in Clearwater. Significant recreational traffic increases range from 35 percent on summer weekends to 40 or 50 percent on summer holiday weekends.

Although usually referred to as the I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Project, this undertaking was actually multiple projects, led by two MnDOT districts and one of the impacted municipalities. The Maple Grove to Rogers segment was under the direction of the Minneapolis Metro District. The Rogers to Clearwater component was two individual projects (St. Michael to Albertville and Monticello to Clearwater) led by MnDOT District 3. The diverging diamond interchange in Dayton was a separate project let by that city, and completed in collaboration with the Metro District.

The final cost of the Maple Grove to Rogers segment was $127 million, with an additional $21.6 million for the Dayton Parkway Interchange. The funding packages for these projects included a mix of federal, state, and local dollars.

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Cost of the District 3 projects was $70.9 million from federal, state (bonds and road construction budget), and local funds for the St. Michael to Albertville segment, and $103.9 million from federal and state funds for the Monticello to Clearwater segment.

The primary contractor for the Metro District project (Maple Grove to Rogers) was C.S. McCrossan. Other project partners for this segment include lead designer Michael Baker International; the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); City of Maple Grove; City of Dayton; City of Rogers; and Hennepin County.

For the District 3 projects, the general contractor was HcPCi – a joint venture between Hoffman Construction of Wisconsin and PCi of Minnesota. The design lead was Mead & Hunt. Other partners include the FHWA; City of Albertville; City of St. Michael; and Wright County.

Construction on the I-94 upgrade projects began in 2019 and were completed in late 2021. On the Maple Grove/Rogers segment, 9 miles of road were reconstructed in 2020 and 2021. An additional lane was constructed on the interstate between TH 101 and TH 610 in both directions. The corridor between TH 101 and I-694/I-494/I-94 (Fish Lake Interchange) had all major drainage culverts reconstructed, 2.5 miles of drainage added along the new concrete median barrier, and filtration ponds installed throughout the project to treat water.

Within the District 3 projects, 6 miles of roadway between St. Michael and Albertville were reconstructed, and bridges were constructed, in 2020 and 2021. Fifteen miles of roadway between Monticello and Clearwater were reconstructed, with temporary widening done in 2020 and the roadways finished in 2021 – except for ten miles of eastbound roadway between Monticello and Hasty which will be completed this year.

Careful Planning and Coordination of Multiple Projects
The multiple projects along I-94 were the result of a lengthy and extensive planning process. As Chris Hoberg, MnDOT Metro West Area Project Manager, explains, “Between Maple Grove and Rogers, there was a need to replace the pavement, both to extend the service life of the road and also to improve the ride quality. During the planning process, MnDOT identified three lengths of I-94 within a 39-mile stretch that all required reconstruction, and coordinated the projects to coincide, in order to minimize disruption to the traveling public.”
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Adds Claudia Dumont, MnDOT District 3 Project Manager, “Following completion of an expansion project between Rogers and St. Michael, a traffic study was initiated to evaluate the need for additional capacity between St. Michael and Albertville. The study showed adding a third travel lane in each direction would solve mobility and safety issues on the corridor. The St. Michael to Albertville project was awarded funding based on the program criteria, which included return on investment, economic impact, freight efficiency, safety improvements, regional connections, policy objectives and community consensus.

“The district identified the Monticello to Clearwater project to replace failing concrete pavement on the corridor,” Dumont continues. “There was also a need to maintain two lanes of traffic when possible during construction. There was some constituent pressure to make the temporary widening permanent, so the third lane in each direction was included in the project.”

The projects were on a similar delivery schedule, according to Dumont. To better manage traffic along the corridor, delivery of the Monticello to Clearwater project was accelerated by six months to align with the construction schedules for St. Michael to Albertville and Maple Grove to Rogers. While the three projects were separate construction contracts, MnDOT’s communications team developed a single outreach effort to provide more concise messaging to the public.

Utilizing Diverging Diamond Interchange Design

A diverging diamond interchange (DDI) allows free-flowing turns when entering and exiting an interstate, eliminating the left turn against oncoming traffic and limiting the number of traffic signal phases. Used in Europe since the 1970s, they have become increasingly popular in the United States.

The DDI design is not new to Minnesota – seven interchanges have been constructed in the state just in recent years. Regarding its use in the I-94 project, Brian Porter, MnDOT Metro Construction Manager, relates, “In 2018, The City of Dayton, in partnership with MnDOT, initiated a study to re-analyze the outcomes from the previous 2013 Brockton Interchange Study and changed the name of the new roadway to Dayton Parkway. Since the 2013 study was completed, anticipated population growth of the surrounding area had changed.

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“The City of Dayton and MnDOT worked together to perform a full alternatives evaluation that better served the updated land uses and travel patterns. The study determined that a diverging diamond interchange (DDI) was the best alternative.”

Porter says the key benefits of the DDI for this project include:

  • Safety – fewer conflicts than other interchange types
  • Capacity – serves the demand beyond year 2040
  • Operations – stops half the vehicles as the next best alternative
  • Footprint – less right of way needs
  • Cost – one of the lower cost options
  • Multimodal uses – supports shared use path in center of bridge
Addressing the Challenges of Construction Access
Even though the I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Project included multiple components under the direction of multiple jurisdictions, the project was in fact completed on time and within budget. MnDOT project officials report that most of the challenges they addressed were related to traffic disruptions.

Eric Rustad, MnDOT Metro West Construction Manager, comments,” Weather cooperated with construction operations due to the less than average precipitation. Construction access was a challenge, but was provided by closed lanes and closed sections of roadways. To provide access and room for construction, five lanes of traffic were placed in a head-to-head configuration on one side of the road and a chute lane on the other side to allow for six lanes during construction. The chute lane (bypass lane) was for through traffic only, no exits, between the Fish Lake Interchange and TH 241.

“Traffic was placed on one bound of the roadway while the other bound was constructed. Traffic was then placed on the newly constructed bound while the other bound was constructed. Due to heavy interstate traffic along this corridor, the contractor was required to sequence their work appropriately to minimize traffic impacts – which resulted in tight timelines for the Metro District project.”

MnDOT District 3 Area Construction Manager Tim Paul reports a similar process on his two projects, with four lanes affected. He adds, “Considerable environmental restrictions were navigated through open communication with FHWA, DNR, and other governing agencies. The contractor was also required to sequence work, resulting in tight timelines for both District 3 projects.

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”Through collaborative meetings, it was determined by the contractor’s and owner’s Maintenance of Traffic (MOT) engineers what would be required due to planned operations, which included interstate lane closures during allowable hours and local detours for bridge construction purposes.”

Utilization of a less-common construction method delivered a significant benefit during the Metro District project, Rustad points out. “The concrete subcontractor, PCI, used a conveyor belt on a temporary bridge to allow concrete to travel over the eastbound lanes and supplied concrete dump trucks in the center for two stages to allow for concrete placement. This reduced construction truck traffic entering and exiting the interstate by around 90 percent.”

Careful planning, coordination, and collaboration have resulted in a much-improved section of road with the I-94 Maple Grove to Clearwater Project. Closures and detours behind them, drivers are now experiencing improved safety, a smoother road surface, better commercial access for freight and business, and less vehicle congestion as they travel this busy stretch of an important Minnesota interstate highway.

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