Proposed 65th Street interchange has new life
By Matthew Stolle
A long-simmering dispute between the city of Rochester and the Minnesota Department of Transportation over a proposed highway interchange at U.S. Highway 52 and 65th Street Northwest has spilled over into the Legislature — again.
On Wednesday, GOP Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem succeeded in amending a Senate finance bill that would compel MnDOT to issue permits allowing the city to construct interchange ramps at the 65th Street intersection after an environmental review.
MnDOT opposes the interchange without a frontage road or local infrastructure that would reduce traffic congestion on Highway 52. The legislative end-run was tried last year, but failed when the provision was pulled from the conference committee report at the last moment.
"We don’t like to do it this way," Senjem said. "Good grief. The city favors this. The county favors this. Everybody favors this with the exception of MnDOT."
The two sides said they would continue working with each other in an attempt to resolve the dispute, but so far the disagreement has defied resolution. The city has spent $600,000 in consulting fees trying to prove its case, but MnDOT has remained unconvinced.
Senjem said MnDOT’s insistence on frontage roads wouldn’t be such a bad idea except on the west side of Highway 52 where houses, churches and other residential development sit. Putting a frontage road there, he says, would be a "total disruption," hugely expensive and impractical.
City officials also argue an interchange would make driving safer as well as better accommodate the development that’s "going to occur between 55th Street and 75th Street," said Gary Neumann, assistant city administrator for Rochester.
"You need a road system that handles the growth of that area, and we think that 65th Street is a key component of that," Neumann said.
If the city were to get the green light on the project, the cost would be borne by the city, presumably by tapping revenue from the city’s local option sales tax. The cost of building the interchange ramps is estimated between $5 million and $10 million, depending on the final design and right-of-way costs, Rochester Director of Public Works Richard Freese said.
MnDOT officials say they would prefer not to see the Legislature get involved in what is essentially an engineering process.
They also argue that without some kind of frontage or local road infrastructure in the 65th Street area, traffic congestion will increase on Highway 52, posing greater safety risks and inflicting more wear and tear on the highway.
"If they can’t do a frontage road on the west side, they can easily do it on the east side," said Kristine Hernandez, a MnDOT spokeswoman. "The west side’s the issue, but what infrastructure are you going to put in place in order to make it flow and work as a corridor versus, ‘oh, we’re just going to dump everything on 52.’"