Franken backs Highway 52 upgradeU.S. Sen. Al Franken said Friday he will work to secure funding for a critical interchange at Highway 52 and County Road 24 in Cannon Falls.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
U.S. Sen. Al Franken said Friday he will work to secure funding for a critical interchange at Highway 52 and County Road 24 in Cannon Falls.
The Minnesota Democrat spoke with local officials via telephone from his Minneapolis home. The senator canceled a scheduled early morning trip to Cannon Falls due to road conditions.
"This is a great project," Franken said. "I've been at the intersection. We need that flow between Minneapolis and Rochester."
State, county and local officials have been working for years to address safety issues on Highway 52 in Cannon Falls, where there was 34 crashes from 2003 to 2007. The intersection is ranked 81st on a list of Minnesota's 200 most dangerous intersections.
An interchange would eliminate the only two sets of stoplights along the highway between Minneapolis and Rochester, creating a better traffic flow and easier access.
Funding the $38.5 million project has been a slow process, said Greg Isakson, Goodhue County Public Works director.
Officials have applied for several grants and asked Franken that Highway 52 improvements - specifically the Cannon Falls interchange - be included in the next Federal Highway Authorization Bill and that approximately $4.3 million to acquire right of way for the project be secured in the 2011 appropriations bill.
Commissioner Richard Samuelson said Franken's involvement gives the project "new light."
"Once in a while we need a little encouragement," Samuelson told the senator.
Officials say the project is critical to improving safety but also for economic development.
Cannon Falls Medical Center officials told Franken construction on a new $38 million medical center off Highway 52 near County Road 24 will begin no later than April 2013.
Hospital Administrator Glenn Christian said the interchange will play a crucial role in the hospital's plans.
"It's so important we have safe access not only for our patients but for our employees to make sure they get here safely in emergency situations," Christian said. "We want to work very closely with this project and believe it will only make our hospital better."
@Sub heads:Draft plan
@Normal1: Officials have mapped out a draft interchange plan and are currently taking public comments on the project's environmental assessment, which can be viewed from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at a public hearing at Cannon Falls City Hall.
Federal Highway Administration officials will then issue a finding of no significant impact if they feel public comments were adequately addressed.
Local officials will then be able to adopt an official map of the project's layout, begin right of way acquisition and secure funds to build the interchange.
"I think we've got a project that everyone can live with very well," Isakson said. "We would like to get some federal money to take us to the next step."
Local officials have applied for a $20 million federal grant for the Cannon Falls project. Goodhue County and the city of Cannon Falls will contribute a total of $6 million if the grant's approved.
Franken sent a letter this week encouraging Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to award the Goodhue County the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant.
"This project would have a major impact on travel times for commuters in southern Minnesota, would help the environment by easing congestion, and could act as an economic development tool allowing goods and services to be delivered faster," Franken wrote. "I am pleased to recommend this project and hope that you will give the proposal your positive consideration."