With Governor Dayton's signing of the bonding bill on May 30, Ramsey County has received $20.5 million for the Rice Street/I-694 Interchange project. This funding, when added to the $7 million in federal funds already allocated to the project, covers the $27.1 million (2015 dollars) in construction and right-of-way acquisition costs for the preferred alternative (4D-1, Single Point Urban Interchange with Roundabouts).
This means the project can move forward into the preliminary design stage. Next steps include preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) document that summarizes the process by which Alternative 4D-1 was selected, as well as the impact construction of the interchange would have on the environment as compared to the no-build alternative. A geometric layout will also be prepared, which will further detail the design.
The project team will have to move quickly in order to begin construction in 2019. The project schedule is as follows:
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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 multimodal 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 project team has been engaged in preliminary design and an alternatives analysis. Many alternative interchange concepts have been considered.
A recommended alternative was selected in May 2017 by the Project Management Team after considering the input from the February 21, 2017 public meeting, along with feedback that was received from individual meetings that were held with the directly impacted property owners along the corridor over the past few months.
This alternative is called 4D-1 which is an offset single point interchange. The advantage of this design is that the four closely spaced signalized intersection are replaced with three roundabouts. This alternative solves the traffic operation problems now and into the future as traffic volumes increase. In addition, this alternative was the lowest overall cost of the various designs that were considered.
Why Roundabouts? The preferred alternative includes 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.
Nick Fischer, P.E.
Ramsey County Public Works
1425 Paul Kirkwold Dr.
Arden Hills, MN 55112