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For years,Ramsey County has identified the interchange at Rice Street (CSAH 49) and I-694 as a top-priority interchange for reconstruction. Not only is I-694 an important regional trucking route, Rice Street is one of few north-south arterial corridors in the County. Rice Street crosses I-694 in the stretch with only two lanes in each direction, a bottle neck congested for an average of seven hours per day. With MnDOT's construction of a third general-purpose lane in each direction by the end of 2017, the County, with support from the Cities of Shoreview, Little Canada, and Vadnais Heights, plans to reconstruct the Rice Street/I-694 interchange. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2020.
The purpose of this project is to address the operational issues at the I-694/Rice Street (CSAH 49) interchange. Studies show that by 2040 traffic operations within the existing interchange will fail. Addressing the issues of the interchange will provide the opportunity to improve transportation efficiency and safety for multi-modal and vulnerable users who navigate through the interchange. Additionally, a well-functioning interchange will increase the economic development potential of currently underutilized property located within the interchange, particularly the former Ramsey County Public Works site located in the southwest quadrant of the interchange.
The current project cost estimate is $20-25 million. Since a funding request to the State Legislature in the 2016 session was not acted upon, the project is currently unfunded. Ramsey County will try again for State funding in the 2017 legislative session.
Ramsey County applied for 2020 Federal Funds for the project during the spring of 2016. The maximum award per grant is $7 million; securing this grant would help with the funding gap. The County will find out in late 2016 if they are awarded the Federal Funds.
The project team has been engaged in preliminary design and an alternatives analysis. Many alternative interchange concepts have been considered, however the project team has not yet selected a preferred alternative.
It is highly likely that the preferred alternative will include roundabouts since this is the most safe, efficient, and cost effective way to address the growing volume of traffic in the area while minimizing the impact to adjacent properties. Roundabouts are a means of intersection control that have gained in popularity and acceptance in recent years. When deciding how to design an intersection, roundabouts are evaluated and compared to other means of intersection control, such as a traffic signal. What roundabouts do provide over other means of control includes the following:
Increased Safety When replacing stop signs or traffic signals, roundabouts have shown an 89% decrease in fatal crashes, a 74% decrease in life-altering injury crashes and a 39% decrease in all crashes. While roundabouts will have vehicle crashes they are generally less severe than at other intersections due to lower vehicle speeds and one-way traffic flow. Roundabouts have shown a 30 to 40% decrease in pedestrian crashes; and a 10% reduction in bicycle crashes. Navigating a roundabout is easier for pedestrians and bicyclists as oncoming traffic is only from one direction, and there are multiple refuge points on the medians of the roundabout.
Improved Traffic Flow Experience with roundabouts has shown that more traffic can be accommodated and with less delay than at other intersection designs. Studies have shown that vehicle delays are reduced by 20 to 30%. Roundabouts can also function in close proximity to each other without creating traffic backups experienced by other intersections.
Improved Access Roundabouts allow for additional access to the intersection, which may not be feasible with other intersection types. Roundabouts are designed to accommodate all vehicle types traveling through the intersection, including large semi-trucks.
All alternatives being considered propose to close a number of existing accesses on Rice Street in accordance with the County’s Access Management policy. The intersections on this part of Rice Street are very close together and there are many accesses in between which impedes traffic flow and is unsafe.
Redevelopment of the area surrounding the Rice Street/I-694 interchange is dependent on improving traffic operations and providing better access to the regional transportation system. A significant investment has been made to prepare the 12-acre former Ramsey County Public Works site for redevelopment upon completion of the interchange. Currently there are no plans/proposals, but a market study performed as a part of this project showed that the site is best suited for flexible office space. Interchange improvements will allow for the vacant site to go back on the tax rolls and provide jobs while also allowing the surrounding area to reach its full potential.
Beth Engum, P.E.
Ramsey County Public Works
1425 Paul Kirkwold Drive
Arden Hills, MN 55112-3933