The long-awaited improvements along Interstate 494, from Bloomington to Eden Prairie, aren’t coming any time soon, but new federal funding will help make them happen.

Often discussed and imagined, improvements are still more than a year away, now scheduled to begin in 2023. But the project, aimed at easing congestion along the freeway as well as at its interchange with Interstate 35W, recently received $60 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America Grant Program. Planning, discussion and funding for the project have been years in the making.

For many years, improvements to the interchange have been talked about, and supported, by elected officials at nearly every level, with pleas for state and federal funding to make it happen.

It is regularly cited as one of the worst interchanges in the nation, and its inefficiency is touted by Bloomington officials whenever the project is discussed. Built in 1959, the interchange has changed little in more than 60 years. During a 2017 presentation, Bloomington Public Works Director Karl Keel noted that the interchange was projected to carry 200,000 vehicles per day when it was built. And as of 2017, it was carrying approximately 500,000 vehicles per day, resulting in approximately six hours of congestion during a typical day.

Part of the interchange plan calls for the addition of a new ramp to funnel northbound I-35W traffic to westbound I-494, similar to the design that moves westbound I-494 traffic onto southbound Highway 169. The project has $70 million in state funding dedicated to that improvement, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s project page.

The interchange improvement is one element of MnDOT’s larger plan for the corridor, now dubbed the “I-494: Airport to Highway 169” project.

A congestion relief study that concluded in 2017 called for the addition of MnPASS lanes to help improve the traffic flow along I-494. And that effort received $134 million in state funding in 2018. The plan calls for MnPASS lanes in both directions between highways 169 and 77, according to the MnDOT project summary.

Like MnPASS lanes on I-35W through Bloomington and Richfield, the MnPASS lanes would be reserved for buses, motorcycles and vehicles with two or more occupants during peak travel times, and would be open to all traffic during most hours of the day.

Reducing congestion along I-494 may also result in fewer access points to the freeway between Bloomington and Richfield.

The plan calls for the elimination of access points to and from I-494 between Bloomington and Richfield at Nicollet and 12th avenues, with full access to the freeway in both directions at Portland Avenue, based on proposals that were outlined in 2019. As a result of the freeway access closures, the Nicollet and 12th Avenue bridges over I-494 would be overhauled to reflect the expected traffic reduction. They would be reduced to three lanes across each bridge, with improvements for pedestrian and bicycle access, according to the project plan.

The plan is broken down into nine elements, likely to be completed during four separate construction projects due to funding limitations and impacts during construction, according to MnDOT. Installation of the I-35W ramp to westbound I-494 and MnPASS lanes between Highway 100 and I-35W are scheduled for the first phase of construction.

With funding in place for components, it will take at least an additional $250 million to complete the project, which will benefit all of Minnesota, according to Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse.

Information and updates are available online at 494openhouse.com, where public comments on the project may be submitted.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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