After years of knocking on doors, looking for help in improving what many see as a dangerous interchange, Rice County Galen Malecha got an answer that he liked.
“What I heard was ‘We want to work with you,’” a surprised Malecha said to Minnesota Department of Transportation officials during a June 18 meeting to discuss upcoming road projects. “Thank you for your outreach.”
Malecha, who represents a large portion of Northfield, has, along with Northfield and Rice County leaders, for years pushed for improvements to the east side of the Interstate-35/Hwy. 19 interchange.
There’s a traffic signal on the west side of the interchange near the Flying J travel center, but without a signal on the east side, chronic eastbound traffic backups makes that intersection a headache for motorists. In 2014, that section of the highway saw 9,000 eastbound vehicles per day, Dennis Luebbe, the county engineer, said last fall. An estimated 6,000 went west.
In addition to the newfound collaborative spirit, MnDOT District 6 Planning Director Heather Lukes announced that the agency hired a consultant to conduct a safety analysis of the interchange, including the frontage roads. Lukes also noted the high potential for development along the east side of the interchange, which could significantly alter traffic volumes.
She estimated that improvements could be made as soon as the 2025 construction season. That would coincide with planned repaving of Hwy. 19 from Hwy.13 near New Prague to Hwy. 3 in Northfield.
Last year, during a meeting with regional MnDOT leaders, the county board was told it needed to initiate any improvements at the intersection. While seemingly unimpressed with the directive, county and city of Faribault officials sponsored an October road trip for state legislators and MnDOT staff, showing them areas of potential growth and discussing current and future transportation needs. The county’s greatest need: that I-35/Hwy. 19 intersection.
Lukes also reviewed projects proposed for Rice County in upcoming years.
In 2020, MnDOT will work with the city of Northfield to complete a roundabout at Hwy. 246 and Jefferson Parkway. The intersection, which sits in the middle of three schools, experiences significant backups during school arrival and dismissal. City leaders are also working to make the intersection pedestrian friendly.
The following year, MnDOT plans to repave Hwy. 21 west of Faribault from Hwy. 99 to I-35.
Several local road projects involving the state are currently underway, including reconstruction of Heath Creek Rest Area on I-35 near Dundas.
MnDOT has a cooperative agreements with the city of Faribault on the reconstruction/repaving of Hwy. 60/Fourth Street now in progress, and with Rice County on the realignment of County Road 46 at Hwy. 19 west of the I-35 intersection.