Alternative plans for U.S. 52 work

Funding shortfalls send planners back to the drawing board

By Lenora Chu

In light of a funding shortfall for a proposed two-mile reconstruction of U.S. 52 north of Rochester's city limits, transportation officials have created several scaled-back versions of the original project.

Drafted by consultants and officials from Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 6, which encompasses the state's southeastern corner, the package will be sent to Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg for review during the next few days.


"We're preparing alternatives so that if the commissioner has to borrow money he can decide" on a cheaper option to proceed with, said Tony Hames, MnDOT's assistant district engineer. Lobbying for federal money is one of the options.

"There are projects that can be earmarked for dollars on the federal level," said Brian Jergenson, an MnDOT spokesperson. "We have been in discussions with (U.S. Rep. Gil) Gutknecht -- whatever the fix is we want to make sure it's the most cost-effective."

The smaller cousin to a nine-mile expansion of U.S. 52 through Rochester, the project calls for the construction of an interchange at Olmsted County Road 14 (75th Street) and overpasses at 65th Street and 85th Street. Since inception in 2000, the plans have grown in scope to reach a total cost of $27.2 million.

"We look at the plans and say this is good and this is what works, then we look at the dollars and get sticker shock," Jergenson said.

At this point, the project is short $16 million. MnDOT is responsible for half, and Olmsted County and Rochester must provide $5.5 million and $2.5 million, respectively.

If the city and county shares are not ponied up by July 1, 2003, the project's state and federal appropriations could be "jeopardized," according to Rep. Bill Kuisle, a Republican from rural Rochester.

MnDOT's three alternatives eliminate parts of the original plan -- such as accompanying bike trails, sidewalks and certain capacity upgrades -- to lower the city, county and state contributions.

MnDOT has been working with the city and county on the plans, and Jergenson said both city and county officials prefer Option 1, which brings the total local share down $3 million while maximizing the state contribution.


Another possibility of ensuring the project's future calls for tacking the County Road 14 interchange portion onto the larger U.S. 52 expansion plan, which as a design-build project would save time and money by doling most of the design portion out to the construction contractor.

"We'd put (County Road 14) into the design-build," said county engineer Mike Sheehan. "If the funding's available through that process, that would help us a great deal."

Sheehan said finishing the County Road 14 interchange before beginning construction on the U.S. 52 expansion would be an added bonus, because the new interchange could act as a detour and ease traffic during the major construction.

According to Sheehan, state MnDOT officials plan to meet with city and county representatives next week to discuss the project's future.

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