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Despite lack of MnDOT funds, 'burbs push projects

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Brockton Lane
Commercial and residential development has taken hold in northwestern Hennepin County, but officials in nearby cities are seeking up to $30 million to build the new Brockton Lane freeway interchange at Interstate 94 as a way of bringing more people to their communities.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Despite a lack of state funds, officials in northwestern Hennepin County are pushing for a new freeway interchange they say would unleash development and create jobs.

Political support for the would-be Interstate 94 interchange near Dayton and Rogers may end up placing it ahead of other projects state transportation officials deem worthier.   

NO EXIT, STALLED DEVELOPMENT

With no exit near Dayton and Rogers on I-94, traffic zooms right past on what is one of the region's fast growing corridors, much to the dismay of some local elected officials. 

The land is filled with thousands of acres of farm fields, wetlands and woods with lots of space for homes and businesses.

Dayton Mayor Doug Anderson said adding an interchange here will unlock development.

Inexpensive elbow room
Home buyers find lots of inexpensive elbow room near Dayton on the shore of Diamond Lake, an area dominated by rolling farm fields, wetlands and woods.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

"You're bringing a tremendous amount of potential for economic development when we really need these jobs," Anderson said. "And you're serving to maybe help with some of the bottlenecks that are occuring along that corridor and maybe improving the safety."

Anderson and others support what is called the Brockton Lane interchange.   However, in a MnDOT interchange competition last year, Brockton didn't make the cut, so there's no money in the pipeline and and thus no plan at the moment to build it.

Even so, Dayton and Rogers residents are leaning heavily on Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., to find federal earmark money for the project.

Both elected officials say they favor the plan and have already landed $800,000 for planning and design. The project could cost up to $30 million.

INTERCHANGE WOULD GUIDE DEVELOPMENT

The interchange supporters have also hired former MnDOT commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, now a private sector consultant, to advise them.

Tinklenberg argues creating the new Brockton Lane interchange in combination with local zoning restrictions will actually avert the kind of haphazard development that plagues some suburbs.

Few farms remain
Hennepin County is the state's most populous, but a few farms remain in the northwest corner of the county near the town of Rogers where officials want a new freeway interchange to attract more development.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

"Without the intersection...it'll just develop in large lots," he said. "Kind of sprawled development without the kinds of concentrations and densities that connect jobs and housing, that provide the alternative and variety of housing...and that creates opportunities to support transit."

For decades, Twin Cities home buyers and business owners seeking cheaper land, lower taxes and more elbow room have leapfrogged beyond the metropolitan area's boundaries.

And for decades they and local elected officials have waited their turn for the improved or expanded freeways and highways near their town that will speed their commute or expand development.

THE HARD NEW REALITY OF TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

There's not nearly enough money to build all the improved and new roads and intersections that people want.

Arlene McCarthy, Metropolitan Council's director of transportation services, said most of the projected federal and state money over the next 20 years - 80 percent - will be needed for maintenance - repaving, patching and fixing roads and bridges.

"We estimated there would be only $900 million between now and 2030 for expansion and that's not very much," McCarthy said. "So we want to use that money in a wiser way."

That's about $45 million a year.

Building a new Brockton Lane interchange would soak up nearly $30 million of that amount.

David Levinson, a University of Minnesota transportation engineering professor, questions the wisdom of building new interchanges when we can't take care of what we have. 

"We clearly haven't been spending enough to maintain our existing facilities," he said. "That suggests we shouldn't be spending very much on new infrastructure when we have a lot of infrastructure that will deteriorate and be very costly to replace when it fails."

However, Minnesota's transportation history is replete with examples of how local projects rise to the top on the strength of political muscle and with promises of jobs and development.

Supporters in Rogers and Dayton are hoping that's what will happen to their bid for their new freeway interchange.