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'Next Circle Drive' starts to take shape

By Jeffrey Pieters

The Post-Bulletin

Local government planners are doing what they can to ensure Rochester’s "next Circle Drive" is a smooth ride.

They want a smooth run-up to construction, free of land-acquisition disputes with landowners along the route. They have met twice already with the landowners to discuss plans, thus defusing potential surprise.

Planners also want the road to operate smoothly, with fewer stops for traffic signals and fewer intersecting streets and driveways than you’ll find along Rochester’s current Circle Drive. They’re planning stricter access controls than have been used before.

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For now, planning efforts are concentrated on a northwestern segment of the circle, tracing 60th Avenue (County Road 104) between Country Club Road and 75th Street.

The circle eventually will swing south as far as 48th Street, and east at least as far as Marion Road.

The future roadway traverses an area that’s level, close to city utilities, and primed for annexation under a cooperative agreement with Kalmar Township.

A first phase of that agreement calls for letting the city annex 1,000 acres in the first 10 years, 1,000 acres in the second 10 years, and another 500 acres or so in the 10 years after that.

All told, it’s enough land for about 20,000 new residents, based on current city density rates.

Planners met with residents last week at the Rochester Athletic Club to show plans for a right of way that is 250 feet wide.

The right of way — land that the government reserves for projects such as roads — is usually about 200 feet wide for expressways like the one planned on 60th Avenue.

Planners want the extra 50 feet to leave room for Rochester Public Utilities electric-transmission lines. Under usual circumstances, RPU acquires easements for its lines, but planners decided to include utility lines in the right of way along 60th Avenue to make the process clearer for landowners and government alike.

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"Property owner reaction has been pretty positive," said Charlie Reiter, senior transportation planner in the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department. "We haven’t heard much in the way of complaints. I think people understand the changing nature of the area."

Reserving right of way earlier than usual could reduce potential obstructions and hold down the county’s land-acquisition costs, Reiter said.

The "new circle drive" will take years, maybe decades, to develop. The first road improvements would be between Valleyhigh Drive and 65th Street Northwest, Reiter said.

That’s the area most primed for land development. Approved and proposed developments include Pebble Creek, Cascade Pass and Kingsbury.

The north end of the expressway probably would be the last to be finished.

The expressway would include an interchange at U.S. 14, a major road realignment at Valleyhigh Drive, and perhaps a roundabout at the intersection with 75th Street Northwest.

The next step in the project is for planners to begin environmental study. An official public hearing on an Environmental Assessment Worksheet would be held during November or December, Reiter said.

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