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October 13, 2009

The 65th interchange saga - the extended version

Here's the director's cut version of Jeffery Pieters' great story on the outlook for a new highway interchange on U.S. 52 at Rochester's 65th Street Northwest.

Us52north His story lays out the situation clearly. Due to limited space, much of his piece did not make it into today's print edition. For those interested in more information, here's the full version.

A U.S. 52 interchange at 65th Street Northwest in Rochester is not coming before 2011 — if, in fact, it winds up being built at all.
That is what local officials heard during a mediated discussion meeting Friday. The three-hour meeting, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation ombudsman’s office, was at the Olmsted County Public Health building.
“I would describe it as a problem-solving meeting,” said state Sen. David Senjem. “What can the city of Rochester and MnDOT do to effectively move along projects?”

In this case, Senjem and others learned, the project is constrained by federal and state planning rules.

A $794,000 study, being conducted for the two government entities by SRF Consulting Group, is a prerequisite to any federal funding or project approval. 

The study, covering about 2.5 square miles around the area where the interchange is proposed, will take about a year. Land acquisition and project planning must wait until the study is done.

“We’re talking about spending millions of dollars in public funds,” said Greg Paulson, second-in-command at MnDOT’s Rochester office. “We want to make sure we’re doing it in the proper way.”

That includes taking a look at traffic characteristics in a wide area around the proposed interchange to justify the project, Paulson said.

The interchange proposal has been a point of contention for state and city officials for the better part of this decade.
An interchange at 65th Street was not approved as part of the 2003 ROC 52 project, an 11-mile, $240 million facelift of the city’s freeway.
But at the time, Rochester got permission to upgrade the 65th Street bridge over U.S. 52 to one suitable for an eventual interchange. That was at the city’s cost.
The city also committed $2.5 million in local-option sales tax revenues to interchange construction. That is the only known funding source for the project now.The stalled interchange is what’s holding up construction of a new north-side Menards store and a nearby mall-sized retail development, said Tom Leonard, spokesman for IBEW Local #343.
Together, the two projects would account for some 300 construction jobs and 2,000 to 3,000 permanent full-time jobs, Leonard said. The finished project would produce an ongoing tax revenue stream of some $168 million per year, he said.
“Here we’ve got a project they can spend $6 million on ... and create all these jobs and nobody’s paying attention to it,” Leonard said.
He attended the Friday meeting and “had a better feeling leaving there than I did going in.”
In fact, Leonard speculated that interchange construction could begin as soon as the spring, but his speculation was not supported by any of the state or city officials contacted for this story.
 Senjem, who proposed legislation each of the last two legislative sessions to force MnDOT approval of the interchange, came away from the meeting with a sense of grim acceptance.
“I think it was a good meeting to have,” he said. “I probably understand the process a lot better. I may not appreciate it, but I understand it.”
State and city officials meet twice monthly to discuss progress on the SRF study, said Rhonda Prestegard of MnDOT.

Comments

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First it was because the interchanges were too close together that they couldn't build. Now they want to spend $750,000 doing a mandatory survey and wait another year. This is a plan that could have easily been completed with the original ROC 52 program but there were more concerns from the State of Minnesota. This has been a program that continues to defy logic. Interchanges too close...hmmm, 40th and 47th interchanges in the south are closer. Impact on the community, have you ever been in the 55th Street N.W. are from 4:00 pm to 6:30 pm? That is impact on the community. I have a feeling someone p*ssed off someone a long time ago and this continues to be a project wanted by the community but denied by the state.

I agree Scott. 55th street is just ridiculous and continues to get worse between 4pm and 6:30pm.

If they would have done this in 2003, it would have been much cheaper and would already be completed.

Instead, our officials waste more time and money trying to figure out the obvious. We all know there are major backup and congestion problems on 55th street, why can't the public officials realize this?

Also, when is the 55th street extension to highway 63 going to be completed? Is this project moving forward at all or has it stalled?

They should see if Menards and that develpment want to chip some money towards the construction of the interchange. It would be in their best interest.

I understand why Menards doesn't want to go ahead with their project as they were planning to be closer to 65th street. Why can't the mall project go ahead, though? My understanding is they plan for the whole area between 65th and 75th and will be bigger than the current Shoppes at Maine--which can be gotten to from either the 40th or 47th Street exits.

(For the record, I definitely think the 65th street exchange makes the most sense, which is why it probably won't happen)

Hey Jason, good luck with getting John Menard to chip into the project. It won't happen.

To me this whole project is lack of foresight and planning by everybody involved. No one thought that it would be a good idea to set land aside for a future frontage road?
I guess I'm not even sure if there is even an outlet onto 65th for all of the housing development out there. Does it all basically have to outlet onto 55th and West Circle Drive?

Is there a deeper reason why just MNDot wants to stall this? Is there someone that has a personal problem with this project going through?
If the money has been approved, the research done, the bridge built and taxes collected, it makes you wonder what kind of alterior motives there are to block this from being built.Maybe someone should investigate MNDot?

I can see why the city did not want an interchange on 55th street like the one on 19th. The 19th street interchange is the biggest jumbled up mess of an intersection/lanes that I have ever seen.

Not sure what is wrong with 19th st exit. I drive it everyday and never sit longer than a minute or two at a light. I sit for a good 5 minutes at 55th street quite often. After the second time through it no problem.

Granted 55th Street is a goofed up intersection, but who designed? DAHHH. the same people dragging their feet on the 65th street exchange. They gave the go ahead on the PI overpass by Elk Run, something that is a long way down the road. Lets quit spending MY tax dollars and get it done, people are wanting to expand, get more jobs and help Rochester's economy.

"The finished project would produce an ongoing tax revenue stream of some $168 million per year, he said." Does that number seem fishy to others as well? I'm trying to see how they could get $168 million, but I'm not even close. Income tax on 3,000 (probably low-paying retail) jobs, property tax, and sales tax doesn't seem like it could add up to close to that amount.

I think MNdot is full of crap when it comes to this interchange issue on 65th st.
This intersection would greatly help bring down traffic to 55th st there is plenty of people who work just north of 55th st on the side roads who would love more then not have to deal with that interchange day in day out. plus have they seen if it would help with traffic out near Gibbs now it is in full swing. there is alot of reason we need this interchange now and not later and the good out lives the bad at this time. Mndot needs to pull there head out there penny pinching cheeks and see some light of the good this brings to our city.
look at all the more jobs to it will bring to this area of town. with menards and other planned projects why say no.

You know jhass has a very good point that I had not thought of before. With the new Gibbs elementary school up and running this is going to put even more strain on an already overburdened interchange. With Rochester agreeing to shoulder some of the cost, why is the state still holding back? An interchange in Pine Island might be needed but there aren't even businesses in that area of development yet. The idea that someone like Menards needs to assist in paying for a portion is outlandish. That's why we have taxes and a $2 million fund set asside for this already. We need to 55th street corridoor to Hwy 63 for future development but unfortunately the "future" part of the 55th street project has expired some time ago. I understand that MNDOT is attempting to find a place to have a meeting to discuss options with the public. Again let's drag our feet some more. I think that the time wait for this project has elapsed and we need to really bring the frustrations of drivers and residents of the area around the 55th st. interchange to bare with MNDOT and our elected officials. Mr. Senjem has tried on a couple of occasions but maybe the Mayor and other businessmen who are affected by this lack of common sense to get more involved. I'm thinking petitions, bringing some sort of a vote to the public...

Instead of a new exit put in a frontage road on each side of 52 running up to the exit at 75th St. from 55th St.
That should reduce some traffic away from 55th St. and would serve any new building in the area.
That would take care of the problems with building ramps to close togather and would help with the future needs that will eventually require a frontage road anyway.

anonymoustoo,

How will a frontage road help all the traffic taking the off ramp going north on 52? Instead of developing a release for the pressure on the the interchange, (65th St.), you would recommend the overflow of traffic somehow use a frontage road that they would only be able to access from 37th Street or 75th Street?

Scott,

I only suggested that frontage roads on each side of 52 between 55th St. and 75th St. "should reduce some traffic away from 55th St. and would serve any new building in the area".

Any way you look at it a messy traffic situation is going to get messier.

Think About It.

Anonymoustoo,

Do you relize that the back way up to 75th st already exits on and up along 55th street. thats where some theese issues bring in. The amout of commercial traffic alone in the 65th and 75th st traffic area already is concern with a big neighbor hood and gibbs right there. The funny thing is there is a start for theese ramps that are needed. and if you want to bring up close ramps look at 2nd st sw and 6th st sw they had the options to redo the ramps more there and thoose are almost as close as this 55th st and 65 st ramps again i drive the area daily for work and personal and i cant tell you how much a cluster it is this area is no different then the 41st and 37st cluster but look how well they flow. the other thing is where is there room for frontage roads they have used all the land up there its not a option. its time this is done for the growth of this town and future expantion.

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