Duluthians see it when traffic backs up onto Interstate 35, and Chelly Townsend hears about it. Visitors to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center will complain about traffic congestion when events converge to make for some of the most snarled days of the year in the city.

Townsend, executive director of the DECC, called it a good problem to have, since it means the city's $950 million tourism industry is humming along.

But it's a problem all the same.

"In Duluth, we still expect to get to a place in 15-20 minutes," she said, "but it can take 30 to 45 minutes to get into the DECC sometimes."

To address congestion in the Bayfront and Canal Park areas, the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council, working with numerous other local entities, released this week a 153-page report which identifies a wide array of solutions and future possibilities.

Everything, it appears, is on the table - from a more pedestrian friendly $32 million reimagining of the Fifth Avenue West bridge leading from downtown Duluth to Bayfront to wayfinding measures which can be implemented as soon as this summer.

"We've got to get a better handle on what we can do for event traffic," said Ron Chicka, executive director for the Metropolitan Interstate Council, a federally mandated agency that works with local units of government to ensure cohesive development of transportation infrastructure.

The report was the result of a $63,000 investment paid for by stakeholders, including the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, which has an interest in alleviating congestion because of complications it poses for trucking traffic in and out of Rice's Point west of Bayfront Festival Park.

The consultants analyzed live events last winter to see the impact of coinciding events such as University of Minnesota Duluth hockey games and the Bentleyville Tour of Lights.

"Event patrons have the tendency to park as close to the venue as possible and are known to underutilize the other nearby parking facilities," the report said.

The report will be the topic of a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the DECC's French River Room.

Lead consultant Nick VanGunst, of Alliant Consulting Inc., of St. Paul, will give a presentation about the study and its findings followed by a brief question-and-answer period. Alliant Consulting provided traffic congestion solutions in advance of Super Bowl week earlier this year at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

From Townsend's perspective, the issue with congestion began to rear its head in 2009 - after the popular Bentleyville Tour of Lights set up shop in Bayfront Festival Park for the first time. The issue has only become more amplified in the years since as Duluth has enjoyed a tourism boom.

"It's such a constrained area here," she said. "What can we do to mitigate traffic congestion?"


If you go

  • What: Bayfront area traffic public meeting
  • When: 5:30 p.m.
  • Where: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center - French River Room
  • How much: no cost
  • Learn about: event parking, traffic and wayfinding recommendations
  • Sponsors: Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council, Duluth Seaway Port Authority, city of Duluth, Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • To view report: visit dsmic.org/bayfront