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Could Rochester build over Highway 52?

Could Rochester build over Highway 52?

After the idea was struck down during the initial planning process, the DMC board wants to know more about the financial feasibility of building a deck over Highway 52. The board approved a feasibility study regarding the deck at their meeting Thursday after a report on the future of transit from Richard Freese, Rochester’s director of public works. 

The deck, which could run between the 2nd Street SW and Civic Center Drive NW/Highway 14 interchanges, would provide opportunities for new development in an area that would otherwise be unusable. While discussion at the meeting focused on the viability of simply creating the deck, DMC Corp. Board Chair R.T. Rybak was optimistic about the idea.

“I’m quite excited about the potential [of decking the freeway],” said Rybak. “This is a piece that we’re going to study whether it’s worth having those big conversations or not.”

Decked freeways — found in Duluth, Edina and St. Paul — put a ‘lid’ on a freeway and allow cities to build on land that would otherwise be unusable. The idea of a decked freeway in Rochester did not initially make it past the ideation stage, but recent successes in other Minnesota cities caused the DMC board to reconsider and explore the idea.

Related: DMC board approves four major projects

While some cities use the new-found land to build parks and pedestrian connections, the city would most likely use the structure to address parking needs, which has become an issue in the DMC district. Rybak also noted an opportunity to create tax revenue if the deck came to fruition. 

“The idea here is to make something that would create revenue and make public infrastructure more viable,” Rybak said. “The Bloom project will create $2.3 million in new tax revenue per year … there’s no tax revenue being generated on [Highway] 52 right now.”

The board of directors approved a financial feasibility study for the decking project Thursday, as well as support for federal grant applications. 

The decking proposal was one of many transit-related ideas included in Freese’s report, as well as adding four solar-powered buses to Rochester’s fleet, immediately upgrading the currently overcrowded park-and-ride system, redesigning streets in order to improve traffic flow, and adding bike lanes across the city to encourage workers to find alternative means of transportation downtown besides driving and parking in a surface lot.

By 2040, Rochester expects to have at least 8,000 new parking spaces, with an additional 8,500 in two proposed “mobility hubs” just outside the downtown district and bus service into the downtown area. 

Isaac Jahns is a 2015 graduate of Mayo High School and a current journalism student at the University of Missouri. His main passions are writing music and telling people’s stories. Follow Isaac on Twitter.

Cover photo: Highway 52 / Med City Beat

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