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'Can of Worms' Reconstruction Plans Moving Forward

Baihly Warfield
November 13, 2017 10:42 PM

The "can of worms" interchange connecting I-35, 535 and Hwy 53 in Duluth is notoriously tough to navigate. MnDOT knows that and is preparing for a reconstruction. 

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"We have to realize that there's a tradeoff between mobility and cost," MnDOT District Engineer Duane Hill said. "We're trying to find the sweet spot where we build something that is the right fit for the community and for the future needs of our traffic."

In total, the project will cost about $204 million, but it will likely be broken into phases. Coming up with funding has been a challenge after a federal FASTLANE grant was denied. Under President Trump, that initiative is now called Infrastructure for Rebuilding America. 

Hill said they have applied for several grants and will find out if they got the money soon. But he said they have enough to expect to begin construction in 2019. 

At an open public meeting Monday night, Hill said one of the first parts of the project will be connecting Courtland Street to Garfield Avenue because I-35 will likely have to be brought down to one lane. 

"We need to build something to help mitigate traffic that uses I-35 to get to downtown," Hill explained.

MnDOT is also looking for feedback on four proposed options for the reconstructed "can of worms." 

"We've got four concepts that kind of cover a range of options from a full free-flowing interchange to more control of the different movements using traffic signals," Hill said. 

Cody Fultz is in the area often. He has friends that live on the west side of town, about a block from the "can of worms." He lives on the east side of Duluth. 

"Even as a local, trying to get back to the interstate to get back to my side of town is so ridiculous," Fultz said. "You've got to go up the hill, across, then back towards the lake, then up and around."

He said he worries the messy traffic area deters tourists from visiting the Lincoln Park area. 

"Duluth's known as a tourist town. And most tourists stay on I-35 until they get to Canal Park," Fultz said. "So they just completely bypass the whole Lincoln Park area."

Plus, with two left exits and five blind merges, Hill said the area is prone to fender benders. 

"We have, on average, one crash per week in this interchange," Hill said. "It's the third highest crash rate of any interchange in the state."

The "can of worms" was originally designed to connect 35 and 535 heading toward Wisconsin. Hill said the Hwy 53 connection was something of an afterthought. 

"That connection of the ramps to Highway 53 were added kind of based on community input after the interchange was designed," Hill said. "What we ended up with was adding it to the design we had already completed. You have this funny interchange with a signal on top of it. You can't find another interchange like that anywhere."

He expects a design to be chosen mid-summer 2018, and construction to potentially begin in 2019. 

You can find more information about this project on MnDOT's website


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Baihly Warfield

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