Concluding our run around Minneapolis St-Paul, we met up with long time contributor and administrator of the Facebook Page Minnesconsin Highways, Patrick Lilja. Pat accompanied us northward from Mounds View to Duluth to check out the northernmost reaches of Interstate 35, and the short two-state Interstate 535.
The northernmost reaches of Interstate 35W are surprisingly rural as compared to the south end at Burnsville. The freeway angles northeast adjacent to Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Regional Park Preserve and wetlands areas associated with Rondeau and Peltier Lakes by this end sign preceding the wye interchange with I-35E.
A short distance north of the merge between Interstates 35E and 35W is the west end of U.S. 8 at Forest Lake. U.S. 8 runs east 281 miles overall to Norway, Michigan. Until 1981, U.S. 8 extended further south to a terminus in Downtown Minneapolis. Though the final years took the route along side I-35W south to Exit 25B and CSAH 88 / New Brighton Boulevard into Minneapolis.
The next exit northbound along Interstate 35 is also the terminus of a US highway. Ending here is U.S. 61, a 1,400 mile route that originated in New Orleans, Louisiana. Like U.S. 8, this route used to extend further in Minnesota. Unlike U.S. 8, the mileage truncated in Minnesota is substantially more significant in that 314 miles were dropped from Grand Portage to Wyoming.
Continuing north, Interstate 35 reaches Pine City, which is served by the 2012-established Business Loop I-35. The loop follows CR 7 (Hillside Avenue) east to Historic U.S. 61 (Main Street) north to CR 11 (Henriette Road) through town. AASHTO approved the creation of the Interstate Business route on November 16, 2012.
U.S. 210 was downgraded to a State Highway by 1972, as it fell within the criteria of “U.S. Numbered Routes Entirely Within One State”, as listed by American Association of State Highway Officials at their Route Numbering Committee meeting held on June 29, 1970.
Pat suggested we stop at the Skyline Parkway scenic overlook, which sits around 1,100 feet above sea level, nearly 500 feet above the Duluth and Superior Street grids and St. Louis Bay. The site is also home to a tourist information center, which we used to obtain an Minnesota Official Highway Map (but not the latest, as we were told those are still being printed).
The steel arch bridge carries U.S. 2 from Interstate 35 to Downtown Superior, Wisconsin. The bridge was constructed between 1979 and October 25, 1984 at a cost of $70 million.
We intended on driving the Bong Bridge, until Pat informed us that major construction is underway along the span, resulting in an entire closure of the eastbound lanes. Construction kicked off on March 30, 2015 to mill and overlay the concrete deck, paint the superstructure and replace structural joints. Both eastbound lanes closed on April 13 and will remain closed until November 2. The $11 million project also adds a roundabout at the east end of the bridge where U.S. 2 joins Belknap Street at Garfield Avenue.
The final 3.2 miles of Interstate 35, dubbed the Duluth Extension, was a controversial project due to its potential to separate Downtown from the Lake Superior waterfront. Extra consideration was incorporated into the design of I-35 to minimize its impacts. This included lowering the freeway into a trench and building four cut and cover tunnels to conceal portions of the route while sparing historic buildings and the rose garden at Leif Erikson Park.
Planned in 1958, the project broke ground in 1981 and opened in stages between October 1987 and October 1992 at a total cost of $200 million. The original proposal however took I-35 further north to the Lakefront Expressway (MN 61). Concerns from area residents and a vote led to the withdraw of the East End section. Source: “Duluth opens the first section of I-35 extension.” Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities, October 30, 1987.
Up next, a return to southwest Wisconsin to drive portions of Interstates 90, 94 and 39.