Editorial: MnDOT, no road work on I-35 in 2014, please

Published 9:06 am Tuesday, October 1, 2013

We have a request for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Could it give construction on Interstate 35 between the Twin Cities and the Iowa border a rest next year, please?

Interstate 35 is like the Main Street of south central Minnesota. Motorists in Albert Lea, Austin, Owatonna, Faribault, Northfield, Waseca and many towns near them, plus just about the entire state of Iowa, uses I-35 to get to and from the Twin Cities. Imagine one year where during the warm months we actually could use this route for what it was meant for — traveling.

As it is, the four-lane, interstate highway becomes a parking lot in several places. Motorists this year experience horrible delays in both directions between Owatonna and Faribault and between Elko and Lakeville. Savvy motorists scramble to take back roads.

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Despite degrees in civil engineering and urban and regional planning, despite sign shops, websites and a host of available side roads, despite a legion of troopers trained as traffic cops, despite the zipper campaign, it seems there is nothing the state government can do to prevent the time wasted by ugly backups caused by freeway construction.

It reminds us of that nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty, the part about the king’s horses and men.

The worst thing a motorist can encounter — next to a car crash — is being stuck on a still or slow-moving freeway for hours. It’s like driving into prison when the point of roads is to move people. It’s the Department of Transportation, not Department of Idleness. Long traffic backups, the kind found particularly on Fridays on I-35, are a failure of government. Dare we call it an indifference of our state to the plight of travelers? Is anyone at all working on a way to avoid ugly backups, because they happen every summer week in and week out?

In past years, we’ve had to deal with MnDOT’s big dig at the junction of I-35 and U.S. Highway 14. How many years did that take? And we had the repairs to I-35E near Eagan on the way to St. Paul. We’ve had to deal with reworking how I-35W flows through Burnsville and southern Minneapolis. Who could forget the lack of a bridge across the Mississippi River?

And then this year has the one-two punch, where ugly delays happen between Owatonna and Faribault and between Elko and Lakeville, where it’s just about ridiculous to visit Minneapolis or St. Paul.

Let’s take a break in 2014. Let some other part of the state suffer the headache of freeways becoming parking lots. South central Minnesota wants its Main Street back.