MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A tunnel on Interstate 94 near downtown Minneapolis will fully re-open Thursday morning, but will close again at night — just as three sporting events and the Minnesota State Fair empty out.

Several lanes of the Lowry Hill Tunnel have been closed for about two months for renovations, severing the connection between eastbound Interstate 94 and southbound Interstate 35W, and giving drivers at 15-mile detour.

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The Lowry Hill Tunnel (credit: CBS)

MnDOT announced Wednesday that all lanes on both sides of the Lowry Hill Tunnel will re-open Thursday at 5 a.m., but the westbound side will shut down hours later, from 10 a.m. to 5 a.m. Friday.

The closure starts right as crowds will be leaving four major events in the Twin Cities:

  • The Minnesota State Fair, which closes its gates at 10 p.m.
  • The Minnesota Vikings play the Miami Dolphins in a preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium, starting at 7 p.m. in downtown Minneapolis
  • The Minnesota Gophers football team plays the Buffalo Bulls at TCF Bank Stadium on the East Bank campus, starting at 6 p.m.
  • The St. Paul Saints play the Winnipeg Goldeneye at CHS Field, starting at 7:05 p.m. in downtown St. Paul
  • The detour around the tunnel will be the Hennepin/Lyndale exit on I-94W.

    Drivers leaving the Vikings game should take Third Street to I-94W.

    Several ramps will also reopen Thursday morning: I-35N to I-94W, Highway 55 to I-94E, and Fourth Street to I-94W.

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    The work is all part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s I-94 Minneapolis to Brooklyn Center project.

    There was an identical set of events last September, when Metro Transit set an all-time record for 370,000 rides.

    One major warning for Minnesota State Fairgoers: don’t plan on the nine free parking lots and free shuttles from the University of Minnesota.

    “For people who are headed to the fair, it’s a good reminder you can’t park at the University of Minnesota and use those shuttles because there is a Gopher football game,” said WCCO anchor and traffic reporter Ali Lucia. “You have to use a different alternative for parking.”

    And it’s not just during the Gopher game. The U of M shuttles won’t operate all day Thursday.

    WCCO asked MnDOT why they would shut down all the westbound lanes of the tunnel on such a busy night. They say it’s because they need to replace the tunnel’s lights, many of which were damaged by truck drivers illegally driving through during the renovations.

    MnDOT says their contract with the construction companies bars them from working over the Labor Day weekend. The department doesn’t want to wait until after Labor Day because the lack of lighting in the tunnel is a safety concern.

    The 9,000-pound weight limit in the tunnel also ends Thursday morning.

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    Click here for more information on Thursday’s traffic situation on Metropolitan Council’s website.

    Esme Murphy