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Answer Man: Don't blame 65th Street junction on Elk Run

The $34.2 million Elk Run interchange on U.S. 52 at Pine Island has been called a boondoggle by critics, but it can't be blamed for the city of Rochester paying for the 65th Street interchange on U.S. 52/63.

Dear Answer Man, I read something recently -- I think it was in the Post-Bulletin, but now I can't find it -- that said because MnDOT stuck so much money into the Elk Run interchange on U.S. 52, the city of Rochester had to pay for construction of the 65th Street interchange. Is that true?

That's so absolutely not true, it's hilarious. The city of Rochester, legislators and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce pushed MnDOT for that 65th Street interchange for almost 15 years, mainly because Menard's wanted to build a new store out there. That was long before Steven Burill arrived with his Elk Run plan for Pine Island, and long before the "Bridge to Nowhere" interchange at Pine Island.

MnDOT didn't include an interchange at 65th Street in the big rebuild of U.S. 52 that was completed in 2005, determining that it was unnecessary and a potential hazard with nearby interchanges at 55th Street and 75th Street. Regardless, t he city made improvements to the bridge over the highway at 65th Street at its own expense even before a commitment to a full interchange was made.

Eventually, under heavy political pressure, MnDOT agreed to go along with the interchange if the city paid for it, which it did with about $12 million from the city's local option sales tax. The new Menard's also was worth about $12 million, coincidentally. A Post-Bulletin story in May 2013 , when construction of the interchange began, said it was the culmination of a 16-year-old dream -- which by my math dates that dream to 1997.

The new interchange was done by October 2013, and the new Menard's opened in spring 2014.


The Elk Run pipedream was announced in 2006, when Tower Investments bought 2,300 acres near Pine Island. (By the way, that's among the reasons that local people and local media thought Elk Run was a big deal: the developer bought 2,300 acres. How often does a business come to town and buy thousands of acres?)

Plans for the Elk Run biobusiness park didn't really gather steam until 2008. By that time, the city of Rochester had been beating the drum for 65th Street for more than a decade.

Did the whoop-de-do about potential growth north of Rochester related to Elk Run help put the 65th Street interchange over the goal line? No, the bloom was off the rose for Elk Run by 2013. it was a combination of political stars coming into alignment, plus the city's willingness to pay the bill.

You can blame a lot of things on Elk Run , but the 65th Street interchange isn't one of them.

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