Lower Michigan Street closed Monday in Duluth and won't reopen as a neighborhood traffic artery until August 2024.
That was one of the details shared during a virtual public meeting Monday regarding the Twin Ports Interchange reconstruction project — the four-year, $343 million project designed to make Interstate 35 and its connectors safer and more freight-friendly through the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
In addition to utility work that will move the storm sewer from the lower to the upper side of Lower Michigan Street to make room for new I-35 retaining walls, the street will be prepped over the summer for a full year of use as an I-35 bypass, carrying southbound I-35 traffic beginning in October through November 2022.
"The Lower Michigan Street bypass comes into play in fall 2021 to fall 2022," Minnesota Department of Transportation major projects construction manager Pete Marthaler said during the public meeting. "The significant benefit is it puts I-35 traffic into two lanes each way through winter and gets us out of our current situation of having to go one lane each way through the summer."
Marthaler noted work on the 27th Avenue West bridge over I-35, which has been closed since last fall, is nearing completion. The bridge deck is formed and rebar tied, awaiting concrete pouring.
"We are ready for the deck pour," he said, adding that contractors are waiting for overnight temperatures to rise. "We don't want to jeopardize the strength of our concrete."
He said he expected concrete pours to occur later in the week. The bridge is on pace for a mid-June reopening.
The Twin Ports Interchange reconstruction project has been designed to eliminate blind merges and move all exits to the right side of the roadways making up what is commonly referred to as the "can of worms." The project is also replacing load-restricted bridges and ramps for better freight access, and returning some elevated ramps to road level.
Contractors are currently in the process of building the inlet and outlet ends of the new convergence of Miller and Coffee creeks. The center portion, which will introduce an open channel of Coffee Creek through the lower part of the neighborhood, will come later, after traffic is reconfigured.
"There's been a lot of changes made in the past 10 days — a lot of progress made with the drier weather," Marthaler said of the overall project, noting new bridge piers going up throughout the project.
It's necessary to divert Coffee Creek, because its current configuration bends through a field of Interstate 35 bridge piers where hundreds of ground-improvement columns are being installed as crews prepare to demolish the "flyover bridges" of I-35 and rebuild the roadways at ground level.
Asbestos removal is also happening along portions of the corridor, removing legacy contaminants prior to demolition of ramps beginning later this spring.
New digital speed-limit signs will be added on Garfield Avenue, making drivers aware of how fast they're driving.
As more traffic is using Garfield and Railroad Street as workarounds, "folks are coming in pretty fast off the Garfield ramp on the Blatnik Bridge," said Pat Huston, assistant district engineer for the Duluth MnDOT office. "There will be a digital speed sign put up there, and we're working with the Duluth Police Department on some additional enforcement."
Upcoming closures this week are being made to accommodate work on the 27th Avenue West bridge, MnDOT noted in a news release Monday:
On Wednesday, the entrance ramp from 27th Avenue West to southbound I-35 will close between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., to allow the contactor to move the crane from the west end of the bridge to the median area of I-35. Motorists needing to go south on I-35 are asked to use the 40th Avenue West entrance ramp.
On Thursday, I-35 northbound and southbound will close at 27th Avenue West beginning at 8 p.m. During the closure, traffic will be routed up and back down the ramps at 27th Avenue West. The closure is needed for concrete delivery and the placement of concrete for the 27th Avenue West bridge deck. I-35 will reopen at 5 a.m. Friday.
Of course, things could always change.
"It's construction, and we’re giving you the best information we have, but it’s a slice in time," Huston said. "It's a lot like tearing Sheetrock out of your house, and finding surprises."