Rough Roads Ahead

Jan 30, 2017

Written by Tom Klaers, Clean Response

Part I

In September 2016, Greater Minneapolis BOMA brought some focus to local transportation issues with a seminar that included 3 transportation-related presentations.  The first, by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, delivered information on road construction projects and new technologies that improve efficiency, and also had a few slides on the impacts of self-driving vehicles.  Then the city of Minneapolis presented details of road construction and infrastructure improvements in the downtown.  Lastly was a very interesting presentation by experts from the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the future of self-driving vehicles.  All 3 presentations generated many questions from the audience. 

Here are some highlights from each presentation.

MNDOT:

  • Current conditions of our roads and bridges
  • Projects scheduled for 2017 – 2019
    • Highway 169 Nine Mile Creek bridge closure from January 2017 to October 2017
    • I-94 beginning spring 2017
    • Multiple 35W projects beginning summer 2017 and running through 2021
    • Planning and analysis tools that minimize project costs and the impact on traffic
    • New technologies available (such as modular and precast bridge construction, trenchless sewer pipe replacement, materials and processes for longer lasting road bases and pavement)

City of Minneapolis:

  • Websites to visit for information and updates on projects
  • Planned street redesigns, and street closures and restrictions related to projects
  • Construction that will impact routes in and out of downtown Minneapolis (the 35W and I-94 projects, for example)
  • Storm sewer repairs and replacement projects
  • How the city is working to mitigate impacts on traffic flow

U of M Hubert H. Humphrey’s School of Public Affairs

The final presentation of the seminar described the progress, future, and impacts of self-driving vehicles (SDV’s).  According to the presenters, it is not a question of “if” SDV’s become mainstream, the question is “when” will they dominate our roads.  Current state and federal laws don’t specifically prohibit SDV’s, which means they are probably legal.  As technology improves we can expect more government policy for SDV’s.  A big question to be answered is how to integrate SDV’s on to roads currently filled with nonautomated vehicles controlled by human drivers.  There are 5 levels of automation for SDV’s, ranging from driver assisted, to partially automated, all the way to fully automated.  The varied levels of automation complicate the integration of SDV’s to our roads.

At least 10 companies are working on SDV systems, including Ford, Apple, Mercedes Benz, and Google.  There are many benefits to SDV’s, and human safety might be the biggest, as 90% of accidents are caused by human error.  SDV’s can provide mobility for people who currently can’t drive.  The elderly, disabled, and even children would be able to get around on their own.  Our road infrastructure can be better utilized by SDV’s.  Lane widths can be reduced, increasing road capacity.  Traffic congestion can be reduced by better intersection and bottle neck management, smoother merging, and improved traffic flow.

There are several potential SDV ownership models.  Currently, our cars are used an average of 2 hours per day, and many people already question the value of owning a car, especially with the availability of new alternatives like Cars to Go and Uber.  Ownership will depend on the cost of SDV’s and the needs of the user.  SDV’s could be privately owned like most cars are today.  Shared vehicle models could include government owned SDV’s that are made available to the public or privately owned fleets available to rent. The economics of SDV’s will answer many of the questions they create.

There will be real estate implications to SDV’s, with new challenges and opportunities created by the technology.  Transportation availability has determined where cities were established in the past, and is tied to development and real estate value.  Where we live, work, and play is dependent on transportation resources.  Should a shared ownership model be dominant, parking space could be reduced as much as 40%, creating new development opportunities.  Traditional car dealerships would decline as new car sales decline, which could lead to redevelopment.  Destinations and venues like hotels, theme parks, stadiums, and arenas would not need much, if any, parking space.  Hubs for maintaining, charging, or storing vehicles not in use would be needed.  Urban areas would be impacted first and to the greatest extent, though rural areas would eventually be affected as well.

Part II

In November 2016, MNDOT held a I-94 Construction Project informational meeting, where they shared information on the scope of the project, traffic changes due to this project, and the effects on downtown Minneapolis.  This presentation was hosted by BOMA Greater Minneapolis, the Downtown Council, Meet Minneapolis, and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. 

The presentation covered:

  • Details on the I-94 project, running 2 years, beginning in the spring of 2017, including:
    • 9 miles of resurfacing
    • 50 bridges to be repaired
    • Retiling of the Lowry Hill tunnel, which will have all traffic routed through 1 barrel of the tunnel (2 lanes each way), for about 14 weeks next summer
    • Ramp and lane closures on 394, including the westbound traffic being limited to the MN Pass lanes for several weeks (thus no MN Pass lanes available in either direction)
    • Information on the 35W project, to run summer 2017 through 2021, including:
      • Bridge and paving work from Crosstown Highway 62 to downtown
      • A new transit station, and additional on/off ramps at Lake Street and 28th Street
      • New, more efficient express lanes
      • Many ramp and bridge closures, some for up to 2 years (for example, the ramp from northbound 35 to westbound 94)
      • The closures of the 5th Street entrance to downtown and 4th Avenue exit out of downtown

The I-94 and 35W projects won’t just affect traffic on those roads.  People may choose to take routes or go places that avoid the congestion caused by these projects, leading to a decline in revenue for downtown businesses.  Employee productivity may be affected by longer commutes to and from downtown.  Concerts and other events may look for venues with greater accessibility.  Businesses considering moving to downtown Minneapolis may decide to wait until the projects are completed, consider another suburban location, or just choose not to move.

Conclusion

Traffic over the next few years will be challenging for all of us, and the combination of highway construction and downtown street improvements could make Minneapolis seem like a war zone.  However, these projects have funding, and must be executed while funding is available.  The good news is that once these road construction projects are completed, we can all look forward to safer roads, better commutes, easier access to mass transit, and a growing and prosperous city of Minneapolis.

 

More information and resources can be found at the following websites:

MNDOT

www.dot.state.mn.us/roadwork

www.mndot.gov/metro/projects

City of Minneapolis

www.minneapolismn.gov/cip/

City of Lakes

http://cityoflakes.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=ce68e3b97e394298887a7318663eb9ce

Move Minneapolis

http://moveminneapolis.org/



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