Although Anoka County is focused on building an interchange at Highway 10 and Armstrong Boulevard, it was made very clear to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar that the corridor from Coon Rapids to Ramsey needs significant upgrades to improve safety and economic development potential.
“This is certainly our number one priority,” said Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah. “This continues to be a critical safety issue for our county.”
Klobuchar was the second U.S. senator from Minnesota over the past two months to listen to local government officials and community members tell their stories of being stuck in traffic on Highway 10, or losing large business expansions to other cities. U.S. Sen. Al Franken stopped by the Fountains of Ramsey April 1. Klobuchar visited May 31.
Only local dollars have been pledged to get the Armstrong Boulevard interchange done, so county and city officials have visited Washington D.C. and invited their Congressional representatives to Anoka County to stress the importance of federal funding.
Klobuchar May 31 heard from Ramsey Police Chief Jim Way how the city was cut in half when all railroad crossing arms were down for five hours after a line was damaged. The closest overpass over the railroad tracks is on Thurston Avenue in Anoka.
Even when the railroad crossing arms are functioning properly, a long train significantly affects response time by police officers and firefighters.
Manufacturing representatives have told Peter Turok, president of the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, that they have a “10 to 1” rule. That three-hour window is the best time for prospective clients to visit their site because this is when traffic is the lightest. Even if they are going against traffic and not stuck in it, they fear losing business when others see heavy congestion.
Michael Mulrooney, president and founder of the Central Minnesota Development Company, which provides loans and technical assistance for small businesses, said a Minnesota company a few years ago was planning a major expansion and was considering Ramsey. They liked everything about the area except Highway 10.
They could not envision bringing progressive 21st century European clients to an area that had “20th century infrastructure, so the 300 to 400 jobs went elsewhere,” Mulrooney said.
He grew up in South Minneapolis and regularly traveled on Highway 10 when his father was a patient at the Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Cloud. He said not much has changed on this highway since 1950s.
“This initiative can be a major economic impetus, not only for this part of the state of Minnesota, but for the state of Minnesota as a whole,” Mulrooney said, referring to a map Elwyn Tinklenberg showed to illustrate how Highway 10 is a valuable route for people traveling to and from northern Minnesota.
The Armstrong-Highway 10 interchange is currently estimated to cost $35.1 million. Anoka County and the city of Ramsey have each pledged up to $10 million in a memorandum of understanding document approved earlier this spring.
The county last month said it would apply for a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant, and Klobuchar May 31 said she would be sending a letter that day to the transportation department asking for a $10 million TIGER grant.
The county is also seeking $17 million in state funding. Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, was at the May 31 meeting with Klobuchar. The county and city of Ramsey would each contribute $4 million for the interchange.
In preparation for this proposed interchange, Ramsey has already contributed a little over $7 million through the construction of approach roads and intersections, extension of a frontage road and property acquisition and design. The county contributed $1.7 million for the Sunwood Drive/Armstrong Boulevard realignment.
Former Ramsey councilmember and current county commissioner Matt Look said the goal is to secure right of way this year, hire the contractor during the summer of 2014 and have the Armstrong Boulevard interchange done in 2015. Then the county would shift its focus east.
“Armstrong Boulevard is the first priority we have identified, but the entire corridor is a priority for Anoka County and it has been for a long time,” Sivarajah told Klobuchar.
Tinklenberg, a transportation advocate and former Minnesota Department of Transportation commissioner and Blaine mayor, said Highway 10 should really be three lanes in each direction in this area and interchanges are also needed at Sunfish Lake and Ramsey boulevards in Ramsey and Thurston Avenue in Anoka. Fairoak Avenue would become an overpass and service road improvements would happen when the Thurston Avenue overpass comes in.
Anoka Mayor Phil Rice remembers when the city of Anoka on its own dime built a bridge over the railroad tracks on Thurston Avenue over 20 years ago. Although that bridge has helped the adjacent industrial park, the Thurston Avenue interchange at Highway 10 would help even more. There is no way it will happen without partnerships between different levels of government from the city to the county to the federal government.
“We can’t afford to build a bridge without partners,” Rice said.
Klobuchar said congressional earmarks are no longer allowed and instead individual representatives must advocate for specific projects. She has already spoken with Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, about the need for funding improvements on Highway 10 and she asked the new secretary of transportation nominee Anthony Foxx about Highway 10 and the I-94 bottleneck in Rogers during a congressional nomination hearing. She hopes Foxx or one of his top assistants can visit the Twin Cities north metro in the next year.
“I really think that this area is where we need to be targeting funding for transportation right now in the metro,” Klobuchar said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]