Interstate 535 is a short freeway linking I-35 and U.S. 53 in Duluth, Minnesota, with 3rd Street and Hammond Avenue in Superior, Wisconsin. The route spans Howards Bay and the St. Louis River between Connors and Rice’s Points along the John A. Blatnik Bridge, a continuous steel through truss arch bridge.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is in charge of maintenance for the Blatnik Bridge on I-535/U.S. 53 while the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is responsible for maintenance of the Bong Bridge (U.S. 2) to the south. Costs are split between the two states.
Interchanges along Interstate 535 are unnumbered. The west end ties into I-35 and the expressway leading U.S. 53 northwest at the locally named “Can of Worms” interchange. The junction involves two directional T interchanges, with a signalized turn from I-35 north onto U.S. 53 north across the U.S. 53 southbound lanes leading to I-535.
Looking southeast from Enger Park at the “Can of Worms” interchange and I-535/U.S. 53 leading south along Rice’s Point to the Blatnik Bridge. Photo by Monte Castleman (07/02).
I-35, I-535, Hwy 53 Twin Ports Interchange
Costing around $442 million, the Twin Ports Interchange program replaces 33 bridges, updates the interchange joining I-35, I-535 and U.S. 53 in Duluth and revises the ramps along Interstate 535 at Garfield Avenue. Both interchanges serve the Clure Public Terminal, but weight restrictions previously in place forced overweight vehicles to and from the port onto local streets. Design work was 60% complete as of November 2019. However as plans advanced, an estimated $100 million shortfall for the project arose, due to increased costs with addressing contaminated soil and water, geotechnical challenges, and maintaining two lanes of traffic along Lower Michigan Street southbound during construction. As a result the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) deferred work on the project phases involving Garfield Avenue and U.S. 53.7
Initial construction at the Twin Ports Interchange got underway in 2021. Work through Fall 2022 reduces I-35 to a single lane configuration per direction between 27th Avenue W and Garfield Avenue. Construction replaces the 27th Avenue W Bridge and several ramps at the exchange with I-35/535 and U.S. 53 closed.
I-35 southbound shifted onto Lower Michigan Street from Fall 2021 to Fall 2022 while I-35 northbound uses the southbound lanes between Garfield Avenue and 22nd Avenue W. I-35 traffic then shifts onto the rebuilt northbound roadway with two-way traffic in late Fall 2022 and ramps to I-535 reopen as a portion of U.S. 53 closes.
All roadways and ramps through the Twin Ports Interchange will be in their final configuration by Fall 2023. Finishing work along I-35 continues to Summer 2024.
Also known as the Can of Worms interchange in part due to the third-highest crash rate in Minnesota, the exchange between I-35/535 was built in the 1960s utilizing elevated roadways and ramps due to poor foundation soils. Deterioration of the bridges resulted in the overweight truck detours currently in place. Further south at Garfield Avenue, weight restrictions also apply to the interchange built there in 1969.
The MnDOT FASTLANE Grant application for the Twin Ports Interchange 2020 program estimated $244 million for the preferred alternative, with a time savings of 14 years. A previous alternative called for maintaining the existing facilities and replacing elements piecemeal over an 18 year period using traditional funding sources.6 Redesign of the Can of Worms interchange includes relocating the Interstate 35 mainline so that each roadway runs next to one another in place of the current wide median. This will allow for the relocation of left exits to right exits and eliminate merge conflict points. Additionally a value engineering study analyzed whether the I-35 mainline could be rebuilt entirely on embankment versus on elevated viaduct. The signalized movement from I-35 north to U.S. 53 north however remains.
Work at the I-535/Garfield Interchange replaces all of the bridges at the junction. No geometric changes are required outside of expanding bridges to standard widths.6