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ZUMBROTA — A planned interchange at Highway 52 and Highway 57/County Road 8 in Hader was one of four priority projects detailed Tuesday night by the Highway 52 Freeway Partnership at a meeting in City Hall.

The partnership, made up primarily of Goodhue, Dakota and Olmsted counties and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, says the projects are part of a vision to convert Highway 52 to a freeway. The 80-mile stretch connecting the Twin Cities to Rochester is the only state corridor between two major cities that is not a freeway.

“This would be the next interchange that we need to take a look at,” said Goodhue County Engineer Greg Isakson about the Highway 57/County Road 8 plan. Detailed study of the interchange hasn’t started, but he said there have been initial talks with MnDOT about the project.

The site has seen 16 crashes — one involving an incapacitating injury — from 2009 to 2013, according to information presented Tuesday.

Isakson suggested the project could entail a quadrant interchange similar to the one being built at Highway 52 and County Road 9 later this year. Early cost estimates are around $16.5 million for design, right of way acquisition and construction.

“This project is not quite yet in its infancy, but we need to get started on it so, as funding becomes available, we will be able to move forward,” Isakson said.

The other priority projects are interchanges in Dakota County between Cannon Falls and Rosemount, Minnesota.

“The main things we’re after are trying to prevent people from getting hurt and we want people to be able to get around,” said Isakson about the goals of the Highway 52 Partnership.

There were 54 fatalities and 1,886 crashes with injuries reported along the corridor between 2003 and 2013, but the partnership says its efforts have helped reduce the number of fatalities over the past four years.

The group also touts Highway 52’s importance for the state economy, as it carries thousands of commuters and freight vehicles daily.

Funding woes

Partnership members said Tuesday that good progress has been made on the Highway 52 freeway vision since the early-2000s, including six interchanges, five overpasses and the ROC 52 overhaul through Rochester completed in 2006.

They say 35 miles of upgrades, six interchanges and three overpasses still are needed to complete the conversion — as well as an estimated $392 million split among federal, state and local sources.

Over the past 10 years, 78 percent of the funding for Highway 52 projects has come from the state, compared to 17 percent from local governments and 5 percent from the federal level, Isakson said.

But MnDOT Metro District Engineer Scott McBride offered a bleak future for state funding. Many outdated roads and bridges, coupled with decreasing buying power due to inflation, will mean fewer dollars to go around.

“We have an infrastructure problem out there that’s getting worse by the year,” he said.

MnDOT says Highway 52 alone will need around five years of preservation projects starting in 2016, such as bridge replacements, pavement reconstruction and culvert repairs, which exceed current state and federal funding levels.

Without increased transportation funding, the state will run out of money for mobility improvements in around 10 years and begin to fall behind on road maintenance, McBride said.

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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