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2013 top stories: #3 - Highway 52 gets an upgrade

U.S. Rep. John Kline (right) and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle look over plans for an interchange at Highway 52 and County Road 9. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Local transportation — on roads, water and roads over water — got a boost in 2013 after a number of construction projects were completed or moved ahead.

A vision of Highway 52 as an access-controlled freeway from the Twin Cities to Rochester is one step closer to reality after the Minnesota Department of Transportation and local governments advanced work on interchange projects.

Crews began work on a $14 million overpass and frontage road upgrade at Highway 52 and County Road 24 in Cannon Falls this summer.

"This is a great day for Cannon Falls, Goodhue County, the state of Minnesota and anyone who travels on this highway," said County Commissioner Richard Samuelson at a groundbreaking ceremony July 8.

The project had been in the works for years after traffic studies identified the intersection as a top safety priority.

Construction of the overpass is expected to be completed by October 2014.

Earlier in the year, MnDOT also unveiled plans for an interchange a few miles south at County Road 9 — a spot notorious for fatal crashes.

Rather than a traditional design, MnDOT proposed a relatively new U-turn system that would end through traffic on County Road 9 instead of installing an overpass.

Goodhue County commissioners and nearby farmers opposed the plan, saying the tight curves in the U-turns would be difficult for farm equipment and large trucks. Deciding to go it alone, County Board applied for a MnDOT grant in April to build an overpass.

But tragedy struck May 9 after a 74-year-old Northfield woman was killed in a T-bone crash at the intersection. The crash attracted attention to the project, prompting U.S. Rep. John Kline to call a stakeholder meeting to reach a consensus.

“There’s not a person here who doesn’t understand that is a dangerous intersection, and we need to do something about it,” Kline told the group.

MnDOT presented a plan for a quadrant interchange that would put a bridge over Highway 52 for through traffic, but use turn and acceleration lanes instead of on- and off-ramps. County commissioners and state officials agreed the design — which is cheaper and could be built faster than a traditional overpass — was the best choice.

Funding was secured for the estimated $9 million project by late June. The bulk of it will come from MnDOT’s Safety and Mobility Interchange Program as well as a $250,000 corridor investment grant and around $1.8 million from Goodhue County taxpayers.

A request for proposals on the design-build project went out Sept. 30. Construction is slated to begin early next year and completed by the fall.

Goodhue County commissioners discussed future interchange possibilities at a board meeting Dec. 17, identifying Highway 52 and County Road 8 as a likely candidate.

Waterway upgrades

The Mississippi River was the focal point for two major transporation developments in 2013: an upgrade at U.S. Lock & Dam No. 3 and plans to replace the Highway 63 Eisenhower Bridge.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District completed the $70 million renovation to the dam in June after three years of construction.

Among the upgrades was the installation of a guide wall extension and closure dike to prevent currents from pulling boats toward the dam.

The work also included dredging of the river bottom.

Bruce Bolden, chief of operations for the St. Paul district, said the improvements should fix navigation issues at the lock for at least the next 50 years.

Further downstream, MnDOT narrowed design options for a new bridge connecting downtown Red Wing to Wisconsin. The current bridge, built in 1960, was deemed fracture critical or structurally deficient in a statewide bridge inspection following the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

The top options are a tied arch, steel box girder and concrete box girder. Regardless of the design, the bridge will remain a two-lane passage with the option for expanding in the future.

MnDOT also is looking at replacing or renovating the attached Highway 61 overpass in Red Wing, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. That part of the project is undergoing a federal evaluation process.

One proposal would add a path for truck traffic coming from Wisconsin to get onto Highway 61 without going through downtown Red Wing.

MnDOT plans to have the Highway 63 bridge structure type selected early next year, with construction beginning in 2018.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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