See more of the story

A few weeks ago, inquisitive Drive reader John got on eastbound Interstate 94 at the Cretin Avenue-Vandalia Street interchange in St. Paul. He noticed gates at the top of the ramp that, if lowered, would prevent traffic from getting onto the freeway.

He wondered how long the gates had been there and, in an email, wanted to know, "What's this all about?"

The Minnesota Department of Transportation installed gates at the top of entrance ramps leading from Cretin Avenue to both eastbound and westbound I-94 last spring as part of a pilot project, spokeswoman Anne Meyer said.

Additionally, the agency installed ramp gates at several other locations along I-94 and Interstate 35W. In Minneapolis, they included on-ramps from: Lyndale Avenue to eastbound I-94, northbound and southbound Hennepin Avenue to eastbound I-94, 25th Avenue to westbound I-94, S. 4th Street to northbound I-35W, and from 4th Street-University Avenue to southbound I-35W.

In St. Paul, there is a set at University-Franklin avenues to eastbound and westbound 94 via Hwy. 280.

The ramps were selected because they are at interchanges that experience heavy traffic volume. The ramps also take lots of MnDOT staff and time to shut down when severe or fatal crashes, truck rollovers, pavement failures or other emergencies occur and traffic needs to be diverted, Meyer said.

The gates, Meyer said, are "another tool in the tool box" that MnDOT can use to keep additional traffic from entering the freeway in places where there a few exits allowing motorists to get off.

MnDOT often deploys several of its big orange maintenance trucks to block entrance ramps. The gates allow for a single MnDOT worker to deal with several locations. The employee unlocks the gate, manually lowers it into place across the lane and drives to the next location, Meyer said.

When an incident is cleared, a MnDOT employee returns to the gate and — just like on the airlines — puts it back in its upright and locked position.

"It is not done remotely," Meyer said.

To Meyer's knowledge, MnDOT has not used the new ones in the metro yet. But the gates have been used outstate for years. The agency has several gates along Interstate 90 in southern Minnesota and I-94 in northwestern Minnesota that are used to close interstates, primarily during severe weather, Meyer said.

Hennepin Avenue rebuild takes home gold

And the gold medal in the Municipal Streets and Intersections category goes to ... drumroll please ... Minneapolis. The city won the honor during the 34th annual Excellence in Concrete Pavement awards put on by the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota (CPAM) and its national partner, the American Concrete Paving Association.

The $40 million project that began in 2020 included a new roadway paved with concrete 9 inches deep, wider sidewalks, trees and planters and new signals for improved pedestrian crossings. Major utilities were replaced.

"Hennepin Avenue will stand the test of time as a resilient roadway," said CPAM Executive Director Matt Zeller. "This concrete pavement will serve users for decades to come."

Scott County took home a Silver Award in the same category for reconstruction of County Road 83 between Hwy. 169 and 4th Avenue in Shakopee.