City breaks ground for 77th Street Underpass

77th Street Underpass Groundbreaking 18
Thousands of transportation projects ranging from the outlandishly impractical to the very necessary are proposed each year throughout the county. Both kinds are approved or denied in relatively short order. Rarely does a project take three decades to come to fruition after first being proposed, but that is exactly the journey the soon-to-be-built 77th Street Underpass in Richfield took.

The original idea for the 77th Street Underpass was conceived within the first couple of years of the completion of Interstate 494 and the two pieces of transportation infrastructure have been linked ever since.

Shortly after I-494 was completed, it was discovered that the volume of traffic on the stretch of interstate between East Bush Lake Road to 34th Avenue was much higher than anticipated. At that point, the region’s transportation partners started devising solutions to relieve the road’s traffic congestion.

“Interstate 494 sees more than 150,000 vehicles travel on it a day and it is congested 30 percent of the time,” explained Public Works Director Kristin Asher. “Local, regional and statewide travelers who use I-494 every day need better options than just sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic during the busy hours.”    

In the end, planners and engineers proposed the idea of the I-494 Ring Route, encompassing portions of both Richfield and Bloomington, which when completed would allow area residents to efficiently travel east and west from Bush Lake Road to 24th Avenue without the need of getting on the I-494.

Since the 1990s the City of Richfield has made a substantial investment to its transportation infrastructure to make the I-494 Ring Route a reality. The city has delivered over $142 million in projects to upgrade 76th Street and 77th Street, as well as the Penn Avenue and Lyndale Avenue Bridges to realize the long-term vision for the corridor.

Bloomington too has made a similar investment in its own transportation system to accommodate the I-494 Ring Route project, most notably the creation of American Boulevard and the Lyle Berg Bridge over I-35W.

The last piece in the I-494 Ring Route puzzle is the 77th Street Underpass.

Richfield leaders, along with other county, state and local officials broke ground for the 77th Street Underpass project on July 15 at 2 p.m.  

“A lot of passionate and committed people at all levels of government believed in this project and were unwilling to see it die,” said Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez. “The site of the underpass may physically be located within the borders of Richfield, but it will benefit travelers from all over the region and make I-494 easier to navigate.”

In the 2020 state bonding bill, the legislature approved $6 million for the underpass. That, coupled with $5 million in previous state bonding, $7 million from the federal government, $4 million from MnDOT, and $500,000 from other bonding sources, will provide the $22.5 million needed to complete the project.

Outside of the underpass, the project will see other notable changes and improvements to the area. Replacing the Cedar Avenue connection to 77th Street, one block of the future Richfield Parkway will be constructed along Washington Park, the sledding hill at Washington Park will be moved, two new soccer fields will be constructed, a trail will be rebuilt and extended and a new stormwater treatment system will be installed.

Additionally, Metro Transit will be reconfiguring several of its area routes to utilize the underpass, providing area residents with increased public transit access.

“Seventy-Seventh Street is a critical corridor for providing public transit access to Richfield’s residents and businesses,” stated City Engineer Joe Powers. “Adding the 77th Street Underpass to the City’s roadway network will allow Metro Transit to provide more efficient and reliable service to area residents, businesses and destinations.”  

City planners also expect that the underpass will spur further redevelopment interest in southeast Richfield.

“Improvements to I-494 and the addition of the underpass will lead to increased economic opportunities for Richfield, and more than likely Bloomington, as well,” emphasized Assistant Community Development Director Melissa Poehlman. “Residents will have better access to jobs through a more efficient mass transit system, the city’s tax capacity should increase and it should lure more businesses to the area.”   

The project will be completed during the second half of 2023.